Saturday, 4 September 2010

Blake Prize

Speaking of Richard Beck, he also posted recently on the art found in his local Christian bookshop.  Most of it looks something like this.

He comments on why Christians feel they need to put words (in particular, Bible verses) on their artwork.  Many of his commenters wonder why all the art is so kitchy.

I thought of this because the winners of the Australian Blake Prize for religious art have just been announced.  Lo and behold, the winner of the Prize for Human Justice, Age 36 by Fiona White, has its own accompanying text.

Not quite a bible verse, and unlike the horse poster it can be taken a number of ways.  On the surface, the man in the picture is the victim of a human rights abuse.  But is that a halo around him?  Or the fire of the Spirit?  Or is he just getting burnt?

Other entries somehow managed to be religious without an accompanying verse, Biblical or otherwise.  Like the winner of the overall award, If you put your ear close, you'll hear it breathing by Leonard Brown.

Or this highly commended piece, Indulgence (Partial) by Olga Sankey.

The low-res photos don't really do the works justice, particularly Brown's intricate brushwork pattern.  But these creations are not obviously religious.  Instead, like any good art, they make you look and wonder, and maybe (if you are open) to feel something.  They don't tell you what to feel or to wonder, they provide an opening for you to do so in whatever way you choose.  Perhaps you might respond with derision, or with bafflement.  Neither of these things is necessarily bad, although I would encourage you to put your derision to the test, and look again to make sure it's not just your cage being rattled.

The judges said of Brown's work,

In a world of sound bites, snappy one liners and attention grabbing images which hold our interest for a nanosecond, Leonard Brown's beautiful and deeply contemplative painting appears strangely out of place. An ordained priest and a deeply religious person, Leonard Brown has created a work with an enormous spiritual presence, a work of outstanding visual intelligence and one with a profound contemplative content....It is a deeply lyrical work full of subtle variations, like a metaphorical tear drop or the quiet weeping of the seraphims.

If I had been judging, though, I would have given the prize to Rodney Pople's Cardinal with Altar Boy, with its beautiful, rich colours and textures and its spooky, spine chilling evocation of the mystery of holiness, the innocence of childhood and the horror of abuse.  At least, that's what I see.


ish said...

That the works are not obviously religious complements well the surrigate religions of our time, the edifice of ART itself being a notable example. These pieces seem so smug and self conscious and overly dependent on the contest/context for significance. The vacuous greeting card at the start of your post is only matched by the comments on Brown's work: "enormous spiritual presence" oh please ... what does that mean?, "a work of outstanding visual intelligence"?? "profound contemplative content" Yuck. The horse/verse card maker would want to claim that as well. And "deeply lyrical"?? Please do explain. Jon I think they are raving the usual art crap.

Mike Crowl said...

The last painting echoes some of Francis Bacon's works, in which there's a sense of corruption in the religious figures, and I'd agree that it might well have won the prize, in part for its contrast between the serenity of the church and the shock of the mural.
As for the other two abstract paintings I think part of the problem, ish, is that writers about art think they have to say something. They can never just let the work stand on its own feet. (Usually they're paidto say something of course.) I suspect that both of these paintings are more effective as works of art when you stand in front of the originals. Photos of works that consist mainly of subtle brush strokes and subtle colours are very hard to reproduce.
Whether they have any further appeal then is another matter, and whether you can sense anything spiritual in them is also another matter; it's always the difficulty with abstract work and the difficulty with the use of the word 'spiritual', a word that has come to have a grabbag of meanings, as has 'spirituality'.

Jon said...

Thanks for your thoughts Mike and welcome to Painting Fakes!