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After the Prize: why bother?

And so it was that by late December 2021 all works acquired during the Newcastle Club Foundation Art Prize exhibition, competition and Judging have been handed to their respective admirers to go to a new home. Others have been returned, with genuine thanks to the artists themselves. The ‘story’ is included below. The Prize was not cancelled or postponed; despite all, artists, Foundation and their ‘public’ persisted. Of course.

At this close the question arises inevitably: why bother with any of it? What does the Prize and its practical context – arts and philanthropy – mean? The Opening on 3 December 20

21 at the gallery was a delightful evening, attended by some 120 artists, patrons, Club Members, Foundation Executive; the support was tangible. Yet for those closely involved in the arts and the Prize the questions must always be asked: why bother? What do we the observers bring to the work? What must we know about what we have done?

An answer starts with an exhortation:

We had the experience but missed the meaning,

And approach to the meaning restores the experience in a different form.

TS Eliot’s observation from The Dry Salvages (September 1941), nowadays recognised as an aphorism, underlines the need for any aware observer, gallerist, practising artist, questing critic, gallery/online visitor – anyone in touch – to bring an undaunted, alert, patient, receptive appreciation to each work and then to the curated collection. Being up close and attentive: essential. Discovering meaning, most particularly in adverse times.

One initially startling reason for doing so is that each work is a completed portion of the artist’s life, a record of ideas, skills, time, purpose, differences, living commentary. Therefore for the most fortunate participant an artwork will insist upon enlarging, altering, criticising, or even explaining both observer and observation. Simultaneously. Those of us working at Easel Art Space on administering the 2021 Prize had ample opportunity consequently to ‘live’ as observers with those 52 works.

To great personal advantage. Meaning by work and then by aggregate of works, emerged.

The basic story is that on 3 December 2021 at our gallery the Newcastle Club Foundation Acquisitive Art Prize awards were announced and presented. Records of that convivial evening are on our website at http:Easel-Art-Space.com. It proved to be a sociable, engaging pre-Christmas event. It buzzed.

A good result. For us at Easel Art Space the period from 26 May 2021 to that Awards evening was sharply focused. All works on exhibition became well known to us during the curating and those following weeks. Intensity of individual artistic insight centred on the Obeliskia theme gradually became manageable. Finest detail of art working, ideas, vision of the Obelisk itself, the individual artist’s interpretation of the object and location, technique – there was longitudinally much to learn and everything to admire then eventually enjoy. As so many visitors remarked during the public viewings there was in the Prize so much variety with finely worked finishes to refine it, complement it.

Additionally, statistics show – reported in a separate brief article on our website – the communication and information outward flows through the website linked to Facebook, Instagram and Mailchimp were strong, far reaching. This was the technical online basis for meeting the challenge of the Prize as for expanding upon the ‘brief’ provided.

To do that, a range of requirements was met. The Newcastle Club Foundation provided again the theme upon which the competition centred. Works created were to be photographed and images sent to the gallery for assessment, followed by actual delivery of the finished works ready for curating. In the event, the quality of works submitted was a credit to their artists, as Judges noted on the Awards evening. So much was accomplished.

Influential in all the outcomes was the context of the works’ being created during the pandemic. Obviously historic. Across the world for many individuals the Covid 19 virus and consequent destruction of typical daily life, such a reliable habit since at least 1946, was confronting, often tragic. The history is well known. It has been lived.

Whilst the ever-present pandemic may not have been uppermost in artists’ perceptions and art-making for submitting entries to the Newcastle Club Foundation Art Prize the very fact of their works’ being finished and being so complete suggested a productive artistic and technical compression caused by the times. Art-working as antidote. One inescapable meaning therefore was and still is: tough times breed fearless responses.

There are others. Trying to understand observers’ layered admiration for the works and artists in the Prize is helped by TS Eliot. His greatest mature-age work, The Four Quartets was written in the 1930s, published as a single set of poems in 1943. Bookending Eliot’s creative arts life with poems at the time of The Waste Land (1922), the unified Quartets persuade the reader about the living arts, and art of living, time and again.

Foremost among the major images explaining how thoughtful living the key (above) is indeed: We had the experience…” We must not miss the meaning. Each work, the Prize, the exhibition reward by being understood.

Despite being written in Britain in the Second World War era, at least seven years of constant gruelling threat, tens of millions of early deaths, painful dislocation of society, Eliot’s work argues for optimism, for discovering actively the meaning beyond each dangerous day, simultaneously meanings within the day, within the minute.

He urges us: do not miss the meaning: not back then after Eliot and his poetry, not now after the Prize and the gruelling confrontation of 2020 and 2021. No casual glances. Look at, look up, look in.

That is the larger, wider context of this Prize for art works. What then are the identifiable basics to be recognised?

Each of the 52 works exhibited in the Prize represents permanently the artist who made it. Not static, evolutional. Each communicates directly with the careful observer, critic, admirer, doubter. This is a truism. The qualities of that communication polished by skill, patience, persistence, insistence, technique, colour perception and vitally nurtured talent. These things are known.

However in both the singular and with others the aggregate, each work is a segment, a portion of life painted, carved, printed, stretched, framed, finished then offered to view. Time captured, past caught, future implied, insight offered, mortality suspended. See van Gogh, Nolan, Cossington-Smith – the pantheon of those who lived in their own way as in their art back then, still available for understanding, for enjoyment, for doubt. Priceless participation in living. Courage to exhibit. Insistence upon life and meaning jointly. Then and now.

And so it can be reported that at the close of this particularly threatening year the spirit at the Prize Opening in December, the cheering at announcement of the winning entry, the ‘Emerging Artist’ and Members’ Choice awards, were refutations of the dominant dark mood of the year past. The record by photographs taken on the evening, the film of all presentations are available on https://www.easel-art-space.com. . They catch the delight of artists in their works, the joy of sharing ideas through visual arts, ‘rewarded’ effort for insisting on working ‘against the Covid tide’, affirmation achieved through commitment and dedication, skill and ideas.

Overheard during the evening were remarks indicating that the availability of the Prize was heartening for so many artists to strive for results, to offer all 52 works for curating and possible sale, to see the appreciative participation of so many collectors and keen observers, to gather at the gallery on that 3 December, cheerfully. To have the experience, not miss the meaning, to know well the works, artist, exhibition, contribution to human beings living really well.

This 2021 Newcastle Club Foundation Acquisitive Prize will be for many the ‘Christmas 2021 Prize” because the original, traditional plans and timetable were so adversely affected by the virus year. No final Dinner, auction on-line only, careful management of numbers of people per square metre, compromises essential to ensure ease. As a forced but welcome alternative, the Opening became a Christmas gathering, where people, values, respect for artists, admiration for the arts, and the power of ethical philanthropy shone.

Early next year an invitation will be published. Perhaps that year ahead will permit a more usual approach to planning, to timetable and celebration, to the Foundation Prize. Whatever the context encouragement of artists – we look forward to welcoming you to the planned Prize – through vital ethical philanthropy will continue. There is practical power in this Prize.

Here though let it be recorded formally: when the 2021 acquired work enters the permanent collection of the Newcastle Club, given by the Foundation, and so many other compelling works enter other private collections, and when over generations admirers stand before those same art works, there will continue to be unity of past, present, future:

“Here the intersection of the timeless moment…

(TS Eliot Little Gidding 1942),

PJ Cornish

23 December 2021


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