Surprisingly, the Jonathan Vickers Fine Art Award is only just beginning to be recognised as a significantly prestigious prize of national standing. Surprising, because the Award, has now been running for sixteen years, with successful artists receiving a substantial bursary of £18,000, a nine-month residency in a rent-free studio, contribution to cost of materials, a solo exhibition at the Derby Museum and Art Gallery and input into teaching on Derby University’s Fine Art degree programme. This makes it one of the biggest art prizes in the country, which not only gives the recipient the opportunity of being able to paint, uninterrupted, for a prolonged period in a dedicated space, but also creates the potential for the artist to be represented by an established gallery. Major dealers are now paying attention to this biennial event, with London’s prestigious ‘The Fine Art Society – Contemporary’ now representing 2012/13 winner Bartholomew Beal, giving him a solo exhibition at their premiere venue this summer.
Established by the Derbyshire Community Foundation, with the aid of a legacy from the estate of the late Jonathan Vickers, the Award aims to bring ‘a rising artist to Derbyshire to produce work inspired by the county’s landscape, heritage and people’. It has given painters Lewis Noble (2000/01), Kerry Hacker (2003/04), Helena Ben-Zenou (2005/06), Natalie Dowse (2007/08), Barley Beal (2012/13) a much needed boost to their careers, and by retaining one work from each artist is developing a collection of contemporary art of national importance that enriches the cultural life of Derbyshire.
Kerri Pratt is the latest painter to receive the award and will take up her residency in Derby’s Banks Mill Studios later in the year. In 2011 she graduated from the University of Derby Fine Art BA programme with a 1st class honours degree, the Vice Chancellor’s Award and two University purchases to her name, having developed a working method that was painterly in its focus through restrained, yet adventurous, mark-making in the build up of semi-abstracted landscapes. Her large-scale paintings centre on personal responses to places, and in particular the built environment and urban setting, and it is here that the potential for a strong response to this year’s Award theme of ‘Our Treasure Houses’ can be realised. Her work hovers between pure abstraction and a defined concrete reality of architectural forms, with physical and illusory space in the image being flattened through a delicate layering, building and scraping back of paint surfaces, which still manages to present an apparently semi-readable view comprising of perspectival impressions. It is this duality in the painting that allows for an open-endedness of interpretation where the viewer can delight in the restrained gesture and painterly qualities in themselves and, at the same time, become involved in attempting to read a more recognisable scene. For a painter, such oscillation between the figurative and the non-figurative is no easy feat to achieve; yet Pratt succeeds in this time and again throughout her work. She says about her practice “Taking inspiration from my surroundings, I have a curiosity for architectural spaces, drawn towards unusual forms, patterns and hidden layers. In particular I like to draw attention to subtleties of the apparently insignificant, things that are taken for granted, overlooked, mundane and banal. By deconstructing the landscape through a drawing process I am finding new ways of ‘seeing’ and responding to the built environment. This practical research then translates through experimental painting techniques, using a controlled approach, but with unpredictable outcomes.”
It is this dynamic between the ambiguous and the apparently readable that hints at the potential for developments to come, and interestingly she states her desire to underpin her practice throughout the residency with a rigorous approach to drawing. It is this purposeful, focused and disciplined attitude that will ensure Pratt succeeds in producing assured paintings during her nine months on the Award. Added to this, being born and raised in the local mining town of Heanor, makes her association to a prize that aims to take inspiration from the region’s heritage and add to the county’s culture genuinely valid. It is the combination of a rigorous approach to practice, coupled with the authenticity of an artist linked to the region and local community, that will no doubt lead to the creation of work that is a genuinely personal response to the brief that nevertheless holds universal appeal.
During Pratt’s residency her work in progress will be available for viewing through Open Studio sessions at her Banks’ Mill Studios, with dates for these being advertised through her website and Twitter feed. Her solo exhibition of paintings from the residency will be held at the Derby Museum and Art Gallery in September 2015.