Student Art Prize 2022/23

by james macfarlane

After its launch in 2019, Durham University’s Student Art Prize has now completed its fourth year. On the evening of Wednesday 7 June, an awards event took place at the Palatine Centre in which the winners of the various prizes were announced, the full list of which can be seen below. In addition, the evening showcased live spoken performances inspired by this year’s theme of ‘Sanctuary’ and specific artworks taken from the shortlisted exhibition, as well as speeches from the organisers of the initiative.

Back in February, I had the pleasure of assisting with the selection process in the first round of judging. Sifting through a total of seventy-seven entries, the various conceptualisations of the theme of ‘Sanctuary’ became evident through a wide variety of mediums. This is something that really stood out to me; the range of media employed by the entrants ranging from mixed media compositions to fabric tapestry to traditional painting and everything in between. However, perhaps most remarkable for its ingenuity in the competition is Zhuoqi Liu’s Preconscious (2023), which is a metal braided headpiece inspired by Freud’s psychoanalytic theory. With its sublime craftsmanship and intricacy it’s unsurprising it won first place in the art category.

The initiative was set up to expand artistic opportunities within the university

The speech delivered by Richard Roberts, the prize’s founding alumni sponsor, was scintillating and enraptured the thoughts, minds, and attention of the packed room, filled with entrants, students, staff, and supporters. Mediating on the theme of ‘Sanctuary’ through initially comedically likening the concept to a recent personal experience of having a hip replacement, the various forms through which the theme could have been interpreted became clear. He remarked on his surprise to the fact no one referenced Durham Cathedral’s famous ‘Sanctuary Knocker’; a clear option for inspiration some might think. The plethora of conceptual, artistic, and personal inspiration was highlighted by Roberts through examples of a number of artworks in the shortlisted exhibition. He commented on the artists’ visible “outpouring of emotion” and “revealing of personal battles” and confessed to being “moved to tears by some of the entrants” artworks.

The importance of the Student Art Prize for the university’s student body was made profoundly clear too by Roberts. With the university’s “enormous stress on academic prowess and sporting ability”, Roberts claimed the arts have been put by the wayside by the university in terms of funding and support. He went on to say that the “world has been turned upside down in the last four years since the prize launched” because of various world affairs. Nevertheless, the arts remain as important as ever, particularly in terms of supporting student mental health.

A platform on which students can develop their creative practices

With increased pressures in Durham including, but not limited to, financial, parental, digital, and housing pressures, a strong collective feeling of negativity has been provoked. The Art Prize aims to be an antidote to this. Roberts did not keep his qualms to himself regarding the university’s handling of issues including the housing crisis and subsequent “sleepingon-the-pavement-syndrome”, as well as their overlooking of the arts within the educational syllabi. Vice-Chancellor and Warden, Professor Karen O’Brien, who was in attendance, invited to present the prizes looked somewhat sheepish at points and dared not look up from the floor at multiple occasions during Roberts’ mediation on the tattered state of the university arts system. Roberts admitted that he expected more portrayals of Durham in the entries, but perhaps the lack of this demonstrates the skewed perspective on the collective student experience from an outside stance.

However, the initiative was set up to expand artistic opportunities within the university and to build a new permanent art collection, and this is going incredibly well so far. In a university which doesn’t teach fine art, the Student Art Prize is hugely important as it provides students with the ability to exercise their artistic skills and explore various creative outlets. Alix Collingwood-Swinburn, Durham University’s Curator of Contemporary Arts quite aptly put that the competition is open to those “who may not always see themselves as artists” as the prize acts as “a platform on which [students can] develop creative practices” as well as having their artwork professionally exhibited, and possibly accessioned into the university art collection.

Although there will always be issues surrounding the personal preference intertwined with art and the impossibility of comparing it, the Student Art Prize 2022/23 has proved incredibly popular. From its launch in November to the culmination the following summer, all entrants should be incredibly proud of themselves, whether their works are displayed in the shortlisted exhibition or not. The exhibition will remain open until March 2024 and the Student Art Prize 2023/24 will be launched in November.

Rebecca Rowe – Richard Roberts Prize

Talk us through your inspiration and artistic process for Everyone Has a Sanctuary.

“My feelings didn’t begin as inspiration, it was more of a longing to do something I finally felt good at. I heard about the competition in November, when I was still uneasy about being at Durham. The combination of feeling insecure about job losses at home and money and not feeling a sense of belonging was more difficult to come to terms with than I expected. I couldn’t really find my group and I felt I was behind in my subject. Art was something completely different, and something I always thrived in. I had this piece in my back pocket – something I had completed when I was secure in myself, and it reminded me to create my own new sanctuary now that I am here. I needed to embrace change; I’m still trying to find my sanctuary here and that’s ok.”

One of the most striking features of your work is the background of black card; what was the though process and inspiration behind this?

“The black card seemed like a fairly obvious choice to me, I had done this sort of gouache on black similarly before in classes, so I was very familiar with this technique. I only want to highlight what is important in this scene – it’s not about where my grandma is, it’s showing you two things right there. The woman making my dinner every Wednesday has always been my sanctuary and has always made me feel safe. And that’s such a lucky thing to have; someone who makes me feel confident to develop and find myself and my own sanctuary.”

Grace Nicholson – Photography Winner

Your work is undeniably intertwined with links to community, privatisation, and of course Sanctuary; what led you to submit this work?

“I wanted to think about sanctuary in terms of what it means to the people around me. At the time I took the photo, we were in the middle of the annual housing crisis and the stress of finding an affordable student house in a broken system was on my mind regularly. A lot was being said about how this crisis affects students, but not how it affected local residents. I wanted to highlight the importance of community and respect when living in a town so dominated by university students. Sherburn Bingo Hall is due to be demolished and replaced by student accommodation, a huge loss to the local community.”

To what extent do you think photography is a creative art-form, and should it be categorised differently from ‘fine art’ in a realm of its own?

“Photography is a highly creative art form and can tell stories and evoke all sorts of emotions, but I think in this case it important for the Student Art Prize to recognise photography with its own category. Firstly, because there is amazing talent within the student body and photography is part of everyday life for this generation. Furthermore, the North-East has a rich legacy of documentary photography because of its propensity as a medium to deal with social issues. Recognising photography as a distinct category honours its significance and provides a platform for the unique perspectives and artistic processes it offers.”

Annie Park – People’s Choice Award

How does it feel to win the ‘People’s Choice Award’?

“It’s lovely! There are some really spectacular and deserving artworks on display in the exhibition which makes the award feel even more prestigious.”

How do you think the subject matter of the painting links into the concepts of intimacy, vulnerability, and Sanctuary?

“In my painting I wanted to explore the idea of sanctuary at its basic promise of somewhere we feel comfortable, something perhaps intrinsically linked to vulnerability. Sanctuary does not have to be extraneous but can be found in routine and the overlooked spaces we frequent daily. Washing is a quotidian, mindless process but provides a uniquely intimate space for privacy, undisturbed thought, and sequestering oneself. It is a site where external image is not significant, and this is something I wanted to convey in the artwork: the figure being half-finished preserves the comfort and privacy of the space by eschewing full viewer access, also emphasising the irrelevance of a perfect image in a place of vulnerability. The shower is a cathartic space that can always be revisited and consistently provide the feeling of renewal, rinsing both physical dirt and emotional heaviness.”

Student Art Prize 2022/23 Winners:

Richard Roberts Prize (£1500): Rebecca Rowe – Everyone Has a Sanctuary

Art 1st Place Prize (£750): Zhuoqi Liu – Preconscious

Art 2nd Place Prize (£500): Korina Massicott – Melancholy Medicament

Art 3rd Place Prize (£250): Anna Clarke – Terminal 21

Photography 1st Place Prize (£750): Grace Nicholson – Sherburn Road – Bingo

Photography 2nd Place Prize (£500): Emma Allison – In Safe Hands

Photography 3rd Place Prize (£250): Mark Pook – Osaka Castle: Sanctuary in the City

People’s Choice Award (£200): Annie Park – It’ll Come out in the Wash

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One thought on “Student Art Prize 2022/23

  • Such paintings are really popular in modern interiors today. And to choose it wisely, you need to focus on the location, plot and genre of the canvas. Modern studios offer their clients printing interior paintings for different rooms. Here you can find various options for large abstract art for living room


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