A county full of talent unveiled at Wingfield Barns

It’s one of the most breath-taking arts events of the year. It’s a show bristling with energy, creative spark and derring-do.

It’s a show where the exhibitors, filled with the bravado of youth feel that anything is possible and as visitors we see that they are usually right. This is art with the safety net removed. This is all about young creative talents being let off the leash and seeing where they run to.

Tutors may counsel, they may guide, they inspire but at the end of the day, the work belongs to the student and is born in their imagination.

The work books which accompany each submission, apart from being gloriously illustrated works in their own right, provide a wonderful piece of artistic archeology showing how each piece developed from the initial idea to finished work.

The Wingfield Arts Awards are open to all sixth form art students in Suffolk. They are designed to bridge the gap between compulsory education and art school - helping to nurture and develop young talent for the future. Tim Wilson, county advisor for art said just having a work on display in the exhibition was a huge achievement because each sixth form could only submit three works.

“I am delighted because the standard of entry this year is just so high. Each department selects just three works to be put forward for the awards and I know it’s been said before but it’s worth repeating because it’s true - everyone on show here is a winner. Twenty years ago, this would be a degree show, now this is the work of sixth formers. The talent on display here is just awe inspiring.”

Judges are drawn from a wide area of expertise and have to come up with five winners. This year’s judges are: Sean Hedges-Quinn, former Westbourne High School student and now professional sculptor, creator of Bobby Robson, Alf Ramsey and Captain Mainwaring statues, David Baldry, head of art at UCS, artist and teacher Malcolm Moseley and Tim Holmes, programme leader for art and design at Suffolk New College .

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Although the art awards were relaunched last year, these are in fact the sixth awards that Wingfield have staged in ten years. “They were revived when Wingfield was given new life because they are so inspiring and because they are so important in showing the world just how creative and talented our young artists are.

“Also it’s a crying shame that a lot of the work these students produce is never seen. Some of it may go up in the art department or may appear in a school exhibition but the vast majority just disappears into a project folder. This provides a rare opportunity for, not only the general public to see this work, but, just as importantly, also provides an opportunity for fellow artists to see the work of their contemporaries from other schools and for younger students to be have something to aspire to.

“They can see the work of older students and be inspired to enter this same competition in a few years time.”

This year 18 sixth forms from right across Suffolk entered the awards and 52 students, aged 16-18, submitted work for judging.

He said that one of the areas which never ceases to dazzle him is the sheer inventiveness which the students display. A lot of the work incorporates several different materials or is created as a mixed media piece. He said that the scale on which many of the students work is also very challenging and all entries were finished to an exceptionally high standard.

Because the standard of work was so high, he said that the over-riding criteria in this year’s judging was one of excellence. “Judging is extremely challenging because the level of expertise and the imagination displayed is so great. The brief that the judges agreed on was that they were looking for work that displayed ‘Outstanding practice’.”

Another aspect of the show which is refreshing is that it makes no distinction between lens-based work and traditional fine art. Indeed several of the submissions mixed video, photography and printing with sculpture, textiles and painting.

The awards this year also offered students a taste of the skills and judgement required when mounting a show or displaying their work. Decisions have to be made about presentation and space requirements and in a mixed show, each piece has to be shown off to its best effect without impinging on a neighbouring work.

Tim said: “This is the first year that students have come down and installed the work themselves. “One student Ashley Willson from St Benedict’s Catholic Upper School, had to come in and literally build a foam, plaster and chicken wire sculpture in situ while Scarlett Eburne from the same school missed a train to a lecture at Goldsmith’s College because she was so immersed in setting up her silk screen 3-D recreation of her bedroom. She described the installation as a 3-D self-portrait which contains objects, pictures and screen prints of herself, family and friends even the route she takes to school each day.”

He said with each passing year, the awards get to reveal what is going on in the minds of the county’s 16-18 year olds. “It shows the breadth and depth of the experiences they are having and the thoughtful nature of their work.” He added that it also shows how they are taking inspiration from established artists and instead of copying them, they are being inspired and channelling that inspiration through their experiences to create their own work which speaks with their own voice.

“The work books are fascinating in that regard because they catalogue the thought processes, they reveal the way in which different artists work are tapped into, absorbed, blended, combined, assimilated if you will, and then used to come up with something original. We all need someone to inspire us, someone to learn from but it doesn’t mean that we can’t come up with something original, something which is very much us as a result.”

He said that James Stradner’s sculpture on obsession showed what he termed advanced thinking and linked objects with drawings to video in a way that allowed the viewer into the creative mind. “This is something that you would normally see in a degree show and shows a confidence that is frankly astonishing.”

He added that he is really grateful for the hard work shown by all the schools., that allowed work like this to be put on display. He recognised that it would be so much easier to just bring along a couple of paintings to hang but instead they have hired vans and lorries to bring complex multi-media sculptures to Wingfield. “It’s all above and beyond the normal school day so it shows tremendous commitment by the art staff to the awards.”

This commitment extends to having creative ideas about the presentation of the work. Claire Brown, a photography student at Farlingaye High School, Woodbridge, mounted evocative pictures of abandoned shacks on panels formed from broken wooden crates. Are they frames or are they part of the artwork? Perhaps they are both.

Elliot Cornwell, another photography student from Deben High School, Felixstowe, had hand-tinted, selectively coloured photographs of someone making an origami swan turned into three origami swans. Both the finished swans and the pictures of the swans being created form a work which is more than the sum of its parts.

There are too many inspirational works to list them all here. Everyone will come away with their own favourites - such is the nature of an exhibition like this. Everyone could come up with their own five winners, no-one would be wrong.

It seems that the next generation of young artists are not short on either skills or ideas. I urge everyone to make an effort to see this inspiring show before it closes.

The five winners selected by the judges for demonstrating outstanding practice are: James Stradner, County Upper School, Bury St Edmunds; Joe Pearson, Hartismere School; Bethany Gilson, Kesgrave High School; Samantha Coulstock, Northgate High School; Emilia Hall, St Albans Catholic High School, Ipswich.

Wingfield Art Awards exhibition is on show across the Wingfield Barns site at Church Road, Wingfield until November 7.