Artists and masters of all trades

Conor Rogers, 'I've got nowt', 2016, Acrylic on one pound note, on show at the Ruskin art prize event, Millennium Gallery
Conor Rogers, 'I've got nowt', 2016, Acrylic on one pound note, on show at the Ruskin art prize event, Millennium Gallery

The winning artworks in the John Ruskin Prize 2017 are now on show at the Millennium Gallery as Sheffield hosts a prestigious exhibition celebrating the Artist as Polymath.

The John Ruskin Prize 2017: Master of all Trades brings together work by the 26 artists, makers and craftspeople who made the shortlist out of a record number of entries for the award, established by The Big Draw in collaboration with the Guild of St George.

Rosa Nguyen, Tableau - Gardening with Morris, 2015'John Ruskin Prize 2017 winner'�

Rosa Nguyen, Tableau - Gardening with Morris, 2015'John Ruskin Prize 2017 winner'�

 On opening night Rosa Nguyen was announced as the winner of the £3000 first prize for her wall tableau, Gardening with Morris, with the £1000 second prize awarded to Bethan Lloyd Worthington, and Fi Smart also receiving £1000 as the Student and Recent Graduate winner.

Now in its fourth year, the prize invited artists to respond to the theme ‘Hand & Eye: Master of All Trades in The Age of Jack’. Investigating the idea of Artist as Polymath, a master or mistress of multiple disciplines, it attracted artworks that highlight parallels of observation and experimentation between artists and scientists.

“The results are more three-dimensional than previously,” said Kirstie Hamilton, Head of Exhibitions and Displays at Museums Sheffield who was a member of the selection panel. Last year it focused on drawing.

This time many works represent a hybrid of techniques and materials such as Simon Ward and Robert Mach’s witty Foiled Vase.

The standard of submissions has been absolutely fantastic

Kirstie Hamilton

The porcelain vase is a recycled Chinese classical vessel from a junk shop with moulded porcelain bird attachments fashioned from broken ornaments and the blue and silver shiny surface revealed to consist of Tunnock teacake wrappers (the artists are Scottish).

Sumi Perera’s 2B or not 2B fuses Shakespeare, sketching and soundwaves to form wave graphs.

Briony O’ Clarke’s Sea Fax draws on the power of a different kind of wave. A digital signal of the tide pattern in the sea near her North Wales gallery is reproduced in the gallery via an ingenious marbling printing machine.

Emily Lazerwitz utilises traditionally feminine crafts of tapestry and embroidery to comment on contemporary issues, creating infographics with statistics relating to gun control and the consumption of butter.

Among this year’s largely sculptural shortlist is a Sheffield artist whose work is gaining increasing attention. Conor Rogers’ intricate paintings on unlikely objects such as cough medicine bottles, polybags and cigarette packets create an uneasy experience for the viewer. The innocence of the humdrum items at odds with the loaded scenes depicted on them. His work I’ve Got Nowt is of a street sleeper painted on an old pound note,

As to the winning entry,  Gardening with Morris incorporates wallpaper alongside 3D plant and insect forms in glass and ceramic.

The French-Vietnamese born Londoner doesn’t have a garden of her own but says she likes to collect wildflowers on her walks through the inner city. She uses them either in a  botanical design, or to dry out and bring back to life in one of my ceramic and glass compositions.”

The work originated in a 2015 commission for an exhibition at Compton Verney stately home. It has changed organically since then through its content of plant life. They dictate the positioning of the glass object rotated by the artist on the backdrop of William Morris wallpaper.

Rosa is influenced by Ikebana, a Japanese form of flower arranging, and for years she has collaborated with artists in Japan, as well as training there as a Zen Shiatsu therapist, and learning the martial art of Aikido.

Porcelain, tapestry and dyed canvas and wood form Bethan Lloyd Worthington’s prize-winning Have You Seen This Cup? It Could Be Anywhere Here, Really. 

The other prize-winner, Fi Smart, also demonstrates a mixture of techniques with It Hardly Seems Possible Such Sorrow Has Come, three ceramic cylinders decorated with images from the First World War through drawing and transfers of postcards.

The other shortlisted artists are: Louisa Boyd, Holly Brodie, Nuala Clooney, Andrew Ekins, Erin Dickson, Paul Hazelton, Marielle Hehir, Anne Howeson, Rebecca Ilett, Shelley James, Debbie Lawson, , Sue Lawty, Hugh Miller, Kyle Noble, Sumi Perera, Shauna Richardson, Serena Smith, Harland Viney, and Ray Winder.

Kate Mason, Director of The Big Draw, commented: “This year’s theme seemed to resonate strongly with the current zeitgeist and mood. The shortlisted artists’ work not only acts as a mirror to reflect recent political and social change but also presents an exhibition which we hope Ruskin, if alive today would enjoy visiting. The work offers both a contemporary and traditional interpretation of the polymath theme as well as exploring the quirky, playful and beautiful”.

Added Kirstie Hamilton: “The standard of the submissions for this year’s Prize has been absolutely fantastic and it’s great to see such a truly diverse range of approaches to the theme.”

Master of all Trades is on display in the Craft and Design Galley of the Millennium Gallery until October 8.