Wednesday, February 07, 2024

Review: The 6th John Ruskin Prize

Yesterday I went to the exhibition for The 6th John Ruskin Prize at Trinity Buoy Wharf - and I was VERY impressed! I HIGHLY RECOMMEND paying this a visit if you like artwork which has been made by thoughtful artists who make you think!

Below you can find out about:

  • what is the John Ruskin Prize
  • why it's worth a visit 
  • how to see it
  • who won the prizes on offer
  • names of artists shortlisted for the exhibition

What is the John Ruskin Prize? (In a nutshell)

Selected from over 4000 entries, the final shortlist of 78 pieces from 68 artists, makers and innovators have been given a platform for the unseen to be seen and the unspoken to be heard. 

The John Ruskin Prize:

  • is a multi-disciplinary biennial art prize in the UK
  • was inaugurated in 2012 by The Guild of St. George and visual literacy charity, The Big Draw
  • Entry is eligible for all artists, designers and makers - especially those whose artwork defies easy categorisation
  • encourages entries in a wide array of media
  • requires all submissions to respond to the theme of the biennial exhibition
  • The judging panel consisted of Narinder Sagoo MBE, Cornelia Parker CBE RA, Bob and Roberta Smith RA, Gary Hill, Julian Stair OBE, Dr Rachel Dickinson and Jane Barnes.
  • Organised and delivered by The Big Draw
The prize aims to reflect a central thread of John Ruskin’s thought; as a writer and artist - and as an impassioned critic, not only of art but of society and life - he believed that art has the power to reveal and celebrate universal truths, and that a good artist and maker in any medium should always be guided by that search.
The Prize used to hold an exhibition every other year - but the pandemic made sure that didn't happen so this is the first one since 2019.

These are links to the past exhibitions on The John Ruskin Prize website
If after reading this review and/or visiting the exhibition you're interested in entering the next one - in 2025 for an exhibition in 2026 - you may like to read the Submission Guidelines & FAQS for the 6th Exhibition

The 6th John Ruskin Exhibition

In summary:
  • Artists were invited to respond to the theme for the 6th John Ruskin Prize Exhibition in 2024, Seeing the Unseen, Hearing the Unspoken. This could be explored and interpreted in many different ways. 
  • Artwork for the 2024 Exhibition was selected from over 4000 entries from UK and international artists. You can see the Judges here.
  • The final  shortlisted artworks of 78 pieces from 68 artists, makers and innovators can be seen at The Buoy Store, Trinity Buoy Wharf, until February 17th (more details below)
Entries were welcomed from artists, designers, architects and makers, at all stages of their careers. For the first time, entries were open to 
  • the medium of photography 
  • creatives across the globe (but only in respect of digital entries).

Why this exhibition is worth a visit

The 2024 John Ruskin Theme - Seeing the Unseen, Hearing the Unspoken

The theme for the 6th John Ruskin Prize

One of the requirements of this exhibition is that ALL artworks must respond to the set theme. 
Make sure your work responds to the theme, Seeing the Unseen, Hearing the Unspoken? Submission Guidelines and FAQs
The exhibition theme is a major characteristic of The John Ruskin Prize. 
  • It's very much NOT just a "send us your artwork" exhibition. 
  • Hence, by definition, it appeals to a certain type of artist who has no problem creating artwork based on a concept.
It also means that the exhibition can include artwork which comment on current or recent topical issues.

The standard of artwork in this exhibition is unusual. In terms of thoughtfulness, imagination and creativity, in my opinion, it far exceeds artwork typically seen in most open art exhibitions. 

That is I've seen work as good in other exhibitions which is as good - but in general it's been  surrounded by lots more which are not as good.

It reminds me a little bit of the £30,000 Threadneedle Prize (2008-2019) - but this is actually better in my opinion (and I reviewed all the exhibitions for the Threadneedle Prize!) as the Threadneedle often had a fair degree of dross depending on who was on the jury!

Curiously, I didn't find anything which made me react in the conventional "that's just so stupid" mode associated with so much contemporary art which involves assembly rather than making. (Turner Prize 2023 for example - which ignored the beautiful and meaningful Windrush drawings of Barbara Walker).

Plus there were lots of artworks I really liked.

My favourite comprised three etchings by JG Fox. They include contemporary artworks as if they were ancient "found" artworks. You can see them better on his website as 
The critical information is contained in the description of what is presented on each etching. They are very clever because they look like one type of artwork and are actually something else entirely.

I also loved watching The Breathing Desk!!

What's really interesting is the very many different ways that people interpret the theme - which is also reflected in the variety of media they use.

None of the artwork is for sale - but each has a sizeable label (next to or near the artwork) which provides the artist's explanation of how the artwork fits the theme and often how it came about. I got a lot of satisfaction out of reading the explanation after studying the artwork - and then going back again and looking at the artwork after I'd read the artist's words.

If you like going round an exhibition slowly and reading all the labels then this is the exhibition for you!

I'll be uploading my photos to an album on Facebook. Plus all the artworks are being featured in turn on The Big Draw's Instagram account.

Media on display

20.22 by Nick Grellier

One of the interesting aspects of the exhibition is the wide array of media used to create the various artworks. 

This is because the John Ruskin Prize not only aims to attract entries from a wide range of artists and makers it also encourages use of a variety of media to create artforms - including
  • Animation
  • Ceramics
  • Collage, in all materials including photography
  • Combined work using both traditional media and digital elements
  • Digital artworks
  • Drawings, in all formats
  • Film / Video
  • Glasswork in all forms, such as stained glass or engraved glass
  • Installation
  • Metalwork, including gold and silversmithing and heavy metalwork
  • Paintings, all kinds and in all formats
  • Performative work, presented in a film format
  • Photography
  • Photographic elements, including those manipulated or collaged
  • Print, including etching, printmaking and lettering in all mediums
  • Sculpture, including lettering in all mediums
  • Sculptural work with film/ animation elements
  • Textiles and fabric
  • Typography and Calligraphy
Oracle by David Aston
artificial intelligence future prediction simulator
(with a BIG sign saying "do not touch")

The only aspect which didn't work for me were the videos - and that was because they were being shown on a loop in a different room and some were long - so I spent a few minutes and then exited....

I think the presentation of videos needs a rethink - something along the lines of iPads embedded into a presentation wall maybe?

How to see the 6th John Ruskin Prize Exhibition

The Buoy Store at Trinity Buoy Wharf

The 6th John Ruskin Prize Exhibition is being held 

How to get there

There is a very useful page on the Trinity Buoy Wharf website about how to visit - which spells out the different options. 

Speaking personally, I took the Docklands Light Railway to Canary Wharf and then caught the D3 bus from the North Collonade and got off at the end of the route - which makes for the shortest walk!

The 6th John Ruskin Prize Winners

John Ruskin Prizewinners
(left to right) William Bacon, Blythe Plenderleith and Curtis Holder

For very many years, I've only ever covered those art competitions with a first prize of at least £10k - but since the demise (both pre and post pandemic - see The Disappearing Art Competitions) of many of these art competitions I'm now getting more interested in those - such as this one - with smaller pots of prize money AND which deliver and exhibit interesting artwork.

Five winners have received prizes totalling £8,000 - although the first and second prizes have been combined and then halved due due to having two first prizes. 

Prizes were awarded on Wednesday 31st January at the preview of The 6th John Ruskin Prize shortlist exhibition. 

My only comment about the prizes is that I think this exhibitions deserves more sponsors who can contribute more prizes and more cash for those prizes!

Below are the prizewinners. Links to their WEBSITES are embedded in their names.

Joint 1st Prize (£2500 each)

Rather than having a first and second prize for those aged 26 and above, the Judges opted to have two first prizes.  The two first prizewinners are:
  • Will You Hear Me? – Curtis Holder and 
  • Lucky Number 7 / Confetti – William Bacon 

Will You Hear Me? – Curtis Holder

Joint First Prizewinner £2,500
Will You Hear Me? by Curtis Holder 
Will You Hear Me? is part of a series of portraits titled The Talk, exploring intimate conversations between black men. The rawness of the dialogue between artist and subject is expressed through unapologetic, unaltered pencil lines, which trace the journey of the conversation and reveal the layers of a shared lived experience. ⁠

Here, the three portraits of Mike represent a breadth and depth of emotion often overlooked in young black men; an assertive stance preoccupied with the outside world; a tentative yet tender moment; and a relaxed, contemplative gaze. The figures - and the febrile lines that form them - challenge us to look beyond the obvious in search of society’s unspoken narratives.⁠
Curtis Holder wins notable prizes. This is his CV detailing exhibitions and awards.

I first encountered him when he won the Sky Arts Portrait Artist of the Year Award in 2020 using coloured pencils for his large figurative drawings - see:
I photographed Curtis Holder two weeks ago in front of another one his large and impressive drawings in coloured pencil at the Private View of The Pastel Society the week previous to this presentation. There his drawing of ‘The Puppet Maker’ made him the inaugural winner of the Tom Coates Memorial Award 2024 (see Review: The Pastel Society 125th Annual Exhibition (2024))

Curtis Holder was born in Leicester in 1968. He studied Graphic Design at Kingston University and completed postgraduate studies in Character Animation at Central Saint Martins, London. He is a member of Contemporary British Portrait Painters (CBPP) and an Associate Member of the Society of Graphic Fine Art (SGFA). He subsequently became a primary school teacher but has now gone full time as a London based artist who works primarily in graphite and coloured pencil to create large-scale portraits and figurative works on paper.  

Social Media: Instagram

Lucky Number 7 / Confetti – William Bacon

Joint First Prizewinner
Lucky Number 7 / Confetti – William Bacon

The ‘Confetti’ installation comprises of two artworks. The first, ‘Lucky Number 7’ is made entirely from used National Lottery scratchcards collected from a single player. Approximately a hundred cards were used to assemble this artwork; distorting the original image by cutting and layering the pieces. ⁠

The second piece is a collection of shavings left behind after a card has been scratched - gathered in the last three years from found and donated cards. The shavings have a foil-like quality and are an array of different colours, like confetti. Confetti itself symbolises a celebration, however in this setting, the pile represents moments of discarded hope that have passed through the hands of strangers.⁠
William Bacon is a British visual artist who works primarily with found objects that help him  interrogate the traces of modern culture. He is particularly drawn to working with found and discarded objects whose surfaces describe a unique history and carry traces of human interaction. 

His scratchcard works, made from non-winning collections of users cards, contemplate on the formation of pseudo-languages through gesture, repetition and anonymity.⁠

He obtained his BA Hons in Fine art at the Manchester Metropolitan University where he was awarded the 5Plus Creative New Talent Award (2016).

The Alan Davidson Foundation Under 26 Prize (£1000)

Winner of The Alan Davidson Foundation 
Under 26 Prize (£1000)
Bed of Hails – Blythe Plenderleith

Blythe Plenderleith studied BA Hons Sculpture and Environmental Art at the Glasgow School of Art (2017-2021). After achieving a first in her BA, Blythe was awarded The Cass Art Scholarship to complete her MA in Sculpture at the Royal College of Art (2021-2023), where she also gained a distinction for her thesis examining notions of perfection and making-do. She has also exhibited at RSA New Contemporaries 2023, Edinburgh, where she was the recipient of the Fleming-Wyfold Art Foundation Award 2023.


The International Prize (£1000)

This prize went to a digital photographic submission by an international artist - so two firsts in one prize. The subject of the prize certainly merits opening up the exhibition in this way.

Winner of The International Prize (£1000)
Sleep in the Kingdom of Dirt
Muhammad Amdad Hossain 
Many families in the coastal area of Bangladesh have lost their homes and property due to frequent floods, river erosion and other natural disasters. They are forced to migrate to cities in search of a better future. These families have no shelter in big cities. Their children's days begin in the dirt heap and end on the road or boat with nowhere to go.⁠
Muhammad Amdad Hossain (24) was born in Chittagong in Bangladesh. He has won over 150 international awards for his photography. 

Through his lens, he captures the poignant struggles of those affected by natural disasters, compelling governmental action for lasting solutions. Amdad's core objective as a photographer is to immortalize life's fleeting moments, infusing them with enduring significance.⁠

Social Media: Instagram | Facebook | LinkedIn

The 2024 Kate Mason Prize for Innovation (£1000)

This was awarded to another international artist Wyatt Carson for Mary: Through Glass 
I saw this in the video room - and thought it was quite the best animation I've seen in some time.

Busy cars, dotted distant windows and aimless lights make up a city through the whimsical perspective of an indoor cat. Mary: Through Glass tells the story of a curious cat who finds the company of an imaginary friend more intriguing than the neighborhood cats, remaining mysterious and desired by others. The city around her is assembled with abstract shapes through the lens of Mary, often mimicking cat-like features and only revealing themselves as reality through the subtle reflections of it.⁠
Originally from Lawrence, Kansas, Wyatt Carson works in stop-motion animation, printmaking, painting and poetry. Carson's art practice embraces experimentation, curiosity, and imperfection, and takes inspiration from 1970’s Soviet animation, American folk art and German expressionism. Entities such as shadows, cars, nature, weather, and Mary (their cat) variously enact Carson's explorations of mental health, beauty, family, gender, and love. Carson's work is dedicated to finding the emotional roots of the things that catch their eye.⁠

Social media: Instagram

Shortlisted artists

These are the names of the shortlisted artists.
In the last 18 years I've done many shortlisted artists posts where I found and embedded all the websites of the artists. I don't do that anymore - but if you contact me with the name of your artwork and your website or social media account where I can see it I'll add it in.

The shortlisted artists are:
  • Lydia Adams, 
  • Francesca Alaimo, 
  • Chris Alton, 
  • Keith Ashcroft, 
  • David Aston,  
  • Sally Baldwin, 
  • William Bacon,
  • Max Bainbridge, 
  • Jared Barbick, 
  • Julie Barnes, 
  • Claudia Barreira, 
  • Alyson J Barton, 
  • Kirsty Bogle, 
  • Caroline Burraway,
  • Blair Cahill,
  • Duncan Cameron, 
  • Thomas Cameron, 
  • Lorsen Camps, 
  • Wyatt Carson, 
  • Dorcas Casey, 
  • Francesca Centioni, 
  • Abby Cocovini, 
  • Kerry Collison, 
  • Hanfei Dyson, 
  • Belinda Ellis, 
  • Donna Fleming, 
  • Alan Fortescue,  
  • J. G. Fox
  • Sarah Gillespie 
  • Julie Graves, 
  • Eddy Greenwood, 
  • Nick Grellier,  
  • Simone Guideri, 
  • Frances Gynn,
  • Eithne Healy,
  • Sally Hewett, 
  • Fiona Hodges,
  • Curtis Holder, 
  • Daniel Hosego,
  • Muhammad Hossain, 
  • Linda Hubbard,
  • Zoja Kalinovskis, 
  • Olga Kataeva-Rochford, 
  • Scott Kelly,  
  • Antoni Ku┼║niarz, 
  • Anna Larin, 
  • Matt Lee, 
  • Olana Light,
  • Emily Lucas,
  • Pinkie Maclure, 
  • Kate Mcdonnell, 
  • Elias Mendel
  • Pascal Miehe, 
  • Sally Muir,
  • Blythe Plenderleith, 
  • Julia Polonski,
  • Helen Restorick,
  • Isobel Scarsbrook, 
  • Katy Shepherd, 
  • Graham Short, 
  • Trudie Shutler, 
  • Lucy Stopford, 
  • Ruth Swain, 
  • Rhys Thorpe, 
  • Patricia Townsend, 
  • Zac Weinberg, 
  • Maayan Sophia Weisstub, 
  • Elmira Zohrehnejad


John Ruskin

The Ruskin Collection is based at the Millenium Gallery in Sheffield. Not all of the collection is on display but it is possible to interrogate the collection online
For more about John Ruskin:

Previous posts about the John Ruskin Prize on Making A Mark

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