Art prize specially for Southerners

Cromwell artist Deidre Copeland receives a $5000 cheque from John Elsom of ABN Amro Craigs, in...
Cromwell artist Deidre Copeland receives a $5000 cheque from John Elsom of ABN Amro Craigs, in Dunedin, for her winning 2008 Aspiring Art Prize entry, Anzac. Photos by John Charrington.
Art is flourishing in Otago, and not just in the main centres. Nigel Benson looks at the region's newest art awards.

The winner of the second annual Aspiring Art Prize has just been announced in Wanaka.

The award offers a cash prize of $5000 for the best painting, drawing or mixed-media work by a South Island artist and was judged this year by Victoria Timpany, of the Temple Gallery in Dunedin.

The 2008 Aspiring Art Prize was awarded to Cromwell artist Deidre Copeland for Anzac.

Copeland only just got the painting finished in time for the award.

"I was really lucky to get it done. I was so sick in the weeks beforehand, that I couldn't get my head off the pillow," she said.

"It's probably been the most painful painting I've ever done."

Merit prizes of $250 were awarded to Rachel Hirabayashi (Family Group), Richard Hansen (Flour Mill) and Mary McFarlane (Aquamarine III).

The people's choice winner ($500) was James Paton (untitled).

The awards have a feel-good initiative which has captured the imagination in Wanaka.

"We chose the name 'Aspiring' because we wanted it to reflect the aspirations of artists and also, of course, because of our own Mt Aspiring," facilitator Yeverley McCarthy says.

"The aim of the prize is to foster and encourage artists living and working in the South Island of New Zealand, and at the same time raise funds for the Holy Family School, in Wanaka."

Mrs McCarthy is also the chairwoman of the school board.

"With little schools you end up with lots of children but not much funding. So we're constantly looking for ideas to make money.

"We wanted an exhibition we could hold in the school, because it's got such great lighting," she says.

"We also wanted to run it during the school holidays, because that's when lots of people are up this way."

The awards were initiated by Sydney residents John Charrington and Pamela McBride, who own property in Wanaka.

"We wanted to do something in the community, but we didn't know what to do, and then Pam suggested an art prize," Mr Charrington says.

"I spoke to ABN Amro Craigs and they were very happy to do something. So, we decided to go in halves in the prize money.

"This year, we had entries from all around the place; from Geraldine, Ashburton, Temuka, Nelson, Timaru," he said.

"Hopefully, it will only gain traction in the next few years."

The prize is open to any adult artist who is a full-time resident in the South Island.

"It's definitely only for South Island artists. The rationale behind the prize is that there seem to be so many awards in the North Island, but much less in the South Island; hence our wish to help and foster those artists resident in the South Island," Mrs McCarthy says.

"We wanted it to have a point of difference and be something that will endure. Hopefully, it will be self-perpetuating.

"This is the second year for the prize. The first year, we really pushed hard for artists. We were terrified we'd end up with five artists and nothing to do," Mrs McCarthy says.

"We got 80 entries the first year and 70 this year.

"But, the calibre of the work is much higher this year. There are some very, very clever artists out there."

Last year's inaugural award was won by Queenstown artist Janet Majeske.

ABN Amro Craigs has committed itself to the project for the first three years.

"After that, we'll just have to wait and see what happens," Mrs McCarthy says.

But the early signs are encouraging, with locals quick to embrace the project.

The three $250 merit prizes are sponsored by Wanaka locals Tim and Pru Wallis, Peter and Lyn Marshall, and 45th Degree Gallery owner Tony Lynch.

Dunedin couple Baird and Stephanie McConnon stumped up for the $500 people's choice award.

"A lot of people have got right behind it," Mrs McCarthy says. "There are a lot of strong supporters of the arts in Otago."

With the awards being held at a Catholic school, it does have one interesting stipulation.

"Organisers and judges reserve the right to reject any work they may deem indecent, inappropriate or blasphemous," the rules say.

The works were exhibited in the Holy Family School in Wanaka last week.

A 15% sales commission from works sold goes to the school.

"We want to attract people who want to get a nice piece of art for under $1000, but we also want to attract the collectors," Mrs McCarthy says.

"The next step is to develop a website."


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