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Mike Tilling
Arts Correspondent
11:44 AM 25th September 2020
arts

New Light Prize Touring Exhibition

My normal strategy when visiting any art gallery is to race past the serried ranks of mediocrity, take careful note of the most interesting works and return at a later date to view at leisure. It did not work with the New Light Prize Exhibition: there are simply too many notable pictures of considerable skill and interest.

Ian Brooks, Across Borge Bay
Ian Brooks, Across Borge Bay
New Light is an organisation that exists in order to ‘celebrate and promote Northern art by supporting both well-known and emerging artists’. The Prize Exhibition runs once every two years and offers substantial awards, both in cash and prestige, to five of the exhibitors. In addition, public bodies and charities may borrow works of art from New Light at no cost.

A full list of 2020 winners is given at the end of this review.

Walking through the four rooms of the Scarborough Art Gallery (First Light's first port of call) it becomes immediately apparent how few, mercifully few, abstracts there are. I did not check this statistically, but it seems that the majority of pictures are portraits. Clearly, this form is alive and well in the work of northern artists.

Christian Alexander Bailey with Tree Sparrow
Christian Alexander Bailey with Tree Sparrow
Given the region in which we live, it is also no surprises that landscape is popular. Complementing nature are cityscapes and industrial scenes with some superbly realised interiors. Some artists have gone for contemporary reference and politics, but most have preferred the enduring, by exhibiting still life and depicting animals.

Outstanding among the portraits for me was Wilf Tilley’ Satomi 2020. This is rendered in ink and oil on canvas. The attraction is instantaneous. Satomi smiles at us from the wall, and I defy you not to smile back. But it is not just the charm of the work that is so attractive. Tilley has captured her intelligence and energy with a highly skilled use of light, shade and delicate skin tones. Satomi is a woman without make-up, but a very lovely one.

Equally skilled, though not nearly as endearing, is Steven Wood’s Self-portrait. His expression is rather grim. Perhaps something or someone, has proved to be a little annoying. Perhaps life has worked him over a little bit. The style is not quite hyperrealist, but it is an honest and direct image.

Victor Harris
Victor Harris
By contrast, Brian Sheilds’ The Patronage of Icarion John (John Clare poet) is a sculpture of a winged figure sitting on a perch in a cage. A Nineteenth Century nature poet, Clare was lionised in London literary circles, but later fell out of fashion and ended up in the Northampton General Lunatic Asylum where he stayed until his death. His life may be seen as a metaphor for the follies of celebrity status and as such is entirely relevant for our times.

Also commenting on our times is Bethany Marett’s Lockdown Morning. A woman sits in her chair in a garden, obviously not yet dressed for the day. Marett chooses to make this woodcut small, a good decision, as the size adds to the intimacy of the moment. The hand supporting the chin says ‘I have had enough!’ Given the impact that the lockdown has had on us all, it is surprising that this is the only work overtly on this subject.

Some exhibitors deliberately alluded to other artists: the stillness of Felicity Warbrick’s Head reminded me of Giorgio de Chirico; Ben Ark's A fresh view of an old scene of Edward Hopper; Norman Long’s Salmon Fishing on London Bridge of Seurat and, of course, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen. Not one of these was merely derivative, all used recognisable styles to deliver their own versions of reality.

If you visit only one exhibition in 2020 and 2021, and current restrictions make this highly likely, make sure that you get to:

Scarborough Art Gallery, 19th September 2020 - 17th January 2021
Tullie House Museum and Art Gallery, Carlisle, 30th January 2021 - 20th March 2021
The Biscuit Factory, Newcastle, 4th June 2021 - 29th August 2021
Bankside Gallery, London, 15th November 2021 - 21st November 2021

Prizewinners

Valeria Sykes Award – Joanna Whittle for Sorrowing Cloth
Patrons’ Choice Award – Victor Harris for Forlorn
Printmakers’ Prize – Ian Brooks for Across Borge Bridge
New Light Purchase Prize – Christian Alexander Bailey for Tree Sparrow