Outstanding art from Suffolk students
Wingfield Art Awards are a wonderful opportunity to celebrate artistic talent here in Suffolk. It’s an art competition open to all sixth form students and offers a showcase to display the wealth of artistic talent that is bursting into life in our county.
This year the awards celebrate its tenth anniversary amid huge cut backs in budgets both in schools and in local government which, for a brief moment, placed this year’s competiton in doubt. But Lesley Jackson, general manager of Wingfield Barns, the hosts of the competition, said that they moved heaven and earth to make sure that this highlight of Suffolk schools’ art year went ahead.
“With it being the tenth anniversary year, there was no way we were going to let to slide, if we could possibly help it.” Wingfield Arts, under the direction of Ian Chance, founded the Art Awards in conjunction with Tim Wilson, Suffolk’s county art advisor. When Wingfield Barns re-opened in 2009 after two years of closure, the awards were immediately re-launched and have gained an important place in the life of the schools and the wider art community.
“We knew it was important to continue the awards simply because of the quality of the work we had received in previous years. It does give young artists an important platform into a bigger world and why should their opportunities be compromised by budget constraints if we can possibly find a way round them?”
She said that they have had to scale back the ambition of the awards this year but she is delighted that they have made it to their tenth anniversary.
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“We are very sad to have lost Tim, and without him we have lost that direct connection to the schools. We found out in April that Suffolk County Council would no longer be funding the awards but we had already made the emotional decision that we had to continue with them.”
As with the event every year, it is the ambition and the virtuosity of the work that takes your breath away. This year’s exhibition, 36 pieces completed by 17-18 year olds, would not have been out of place in a degree show 20-30 years ago.
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It’s not just painting and drawing. The students work with equal assuredness in multi-media electronic landscapes, in sculpture, textiles, ceramics, photography and installation work. The standard becomes even more astonishing and praiseworthy with the realisation that these students aren’t just doing art – they are juggling the demands of two or three other A levels as well. The extent of the work involved is graphically demonstrated when you take a tour through the students art books which are also on display. Here you can chart the progress of their ideas – from the initial sketch or written brief to the finished artwork and all the stages in between. Some pieces have undergone a steady development while others have been transformed beyond all recognition.
“All the work is good. Schools were invited to put forward two examples of what they felt was outstanding work. So to get here is already an achievement but what our judges were looking for was evidence of exploring and developing ideas and taking something onto the next stage.”
As a result all the work this year has been awarded a gold, silver or bronze certificate and a couple have even received an additional Outstanding Achievement Award. These were awarded to Lydia Fisher-Stevenson from Thomas Mills High School for Pandora’s Box – a laptop animation exploring childhood fears – and Christopher Bainbridge for his knitted, dyed and silk-screen printed work officially Untitled but affectionately known as Squid.
It is the confidence of the work which grabs your attention the moment you step into the galleries. It both challenges and seduces you. I came away with a long-list of highlights. I loved the variety of work and this is reflected in my own personal favourites which differ sometimes from the judges choices.
I loved the directness of Lauren Barfield’s Mother, which was backed up with some beautiful life drawing in her work book, Joe Davey’s two claymation films Sid and Window Seat were both inventive and charming while Rosie Cooper’s collage photograph Solitude, for me was the hit of the exhibition. I loved the way that she had built up layers of interest and detail using pieces of old maps, books and newspapers.
I was also very taken with Iona Richards full-scale installation Premises Which Moved a reaction of a derelict hut complete with an old telephone, shattered drawers, old posters, torn ledgers and documents. It creates a wonderful sense of place. It’s a towering achievement and sits very nicely next to Hannah Payne’s epic work Skull which expands itself across the adjacent wall.
The judges all gave their time voluntarily and consisted of sculptor Sean Hedges-Quinn, Royal Academy schools practitioner Rosemary Elliott, fine artist Rebecca Lyne, photographer Barry Freeman and animator and puppeteer Liz Waugh-McManus. Among the schools taking part are: Suffolk One, Northgate High School, Westbourne Sports College, Felixstowe Academy (formerly Deben and Orwell High Schools), Great Cornard Upper school, Stowmarket High School and Framlingham College.