After Nyne @ Young Masters Art Prize: Meet the Artists

With days to go before the unveiling of the Young Masters Art Prize shortlist exhibition at London’s Gallery 8, our Editor Claire Meadows meets four shortlisted artists who embody the founding ethos of the Prize.

TAMARA AL-MASHOUK

Q: Congratulations on being shortlisted for the Young Masters Art Prize. How do you feel about making the shortlist?

I’m honoured to be among the talented artists showing work at the Young Masters Shortlisted Artists exhibition. I’m also excited to have an avenue to release a work that means so much to me. This video is a culmination of a series I have been building for the past three years. I’m happy the Young Masters Art Prize committee felt connected enough to the work and subject matter to include it in the exhibition.

Q: Why do you feel your work was shortlisted?

License engages with a timely conversation not only about feminism and women’s rights but also encompasses the intersectionality of being Arab and queer. The work speaks to the safety of a body that is ‘other’ in relation to the institution and patriarchy. With ‘grab them by the pussy’ circulating so many minds, and with the global political climate being as it- License is a work that revolts against women’s bodies being claimed and displays an Arab perspective that is contemporary.

Q: What do you feel makes YM unique in the field of current art prizes?

It’s a really interesting concept- to engage with the canon of art history within contemporary culture. I think it’s important to look back and honor the past. To learn from the successes and failures of our predecessors and to critique what has been celebrated and what has not. It allows contemporary artists to inject themselves into the canon of art history.

Q: Tell us a little about your shortlisted work

The work challenges systems that define the place of women in modern society by critiquing the male gaze that dominates not only the canon of art history but also contemporary society today. It stands firmly in response to the male gaze by employing principles of image making that return agency and representation, both on and off camera, to women.
License on Fire depicts a sculptural based structure on fire in the rain. It examines the place of the female Arab body within societal, cultural, and institutionalized systems. The work touches on how toxic masculinity is reinforced through images of domination of the female body and rejects any suggestion of oppression. Her burn is majestic, her burn is sublime, her burn is anarchy.

Q: Where does this work sit in the context of your wider artistic practice?

Conceptually, it’s right at the center of my artistic practice. My work challenges the relationship between the institution and minorities; predominantly women, people of color, and the LGBTQ+ communities.

Q: What do you consider your greatest artistic achievement?

Burning down a 16’ x 12’ x 7’ H sculptural structure that represents the institution and patriarchy in torrential downpour and filming it on RED Dragon cameras. The video was set to be filmed right at sunset in a forest in Upstate New York. We had one chance to nail it and 30 minutes before we started we all got hurricane warning text messages on our phones. We decided we would go for it, nothing could stop her burn.

Q: Who/what have been your greatest influences?

Ragnar Kjartansson is one of my favorite artists. His work The Visitors is a personal favorite and was filmed similarly- they had one chance to get the shot at sunset, everything had to be synced. The challenge and tension is so exciting. Jill Soloway is also a huge influence- her TIFF talk on The Female Gaze has left a lasting impact, I tell every person who will listen to watch it. Watch it. Additionally, I have a deep respect for Mona Hatoum- I once thanked her for creating work that does not orientalise her Arabness. As an Arab woman there is often pressure to create work that reads as Middle Eastern, though the reality is that the contemporary Arab does not look like the orientalized version of Arabness. But mostly- all the people who stood in my way. From the men who claimed my body to the women who tried to shame me for my freedom and audacity.

Q: Is your practice affected by wider contemporary issues – global, political, economic?

It is, my work speaks to the social politics of my body and the bodies of minorities within a global context. I’m most compelled by LGBTQ+ and women’s rights both in the western world and the Middle East. I believe in speaking about these taboo issues while also representing a contemporary Arab that is not displaced, not in mourning, not exoticized, and not orientalized. There is a large section of contemporary Arabs who are diasporic, and who feel connected to both their Arabness and the Western lives they/we have built. These are intricacies I’m interested in discussing, exploring, and representing.

Q: What will you be working on next?

This past February I co-founded VISA Collectiv with a longtime friend, artist, and collaborator. VISA Collectiv negotiates complex issues pertaining to Middle Eastern politics through our art and what we call art parties. We create safe spaces to experience, share, and release. Our most recent event was a fundraiser for Pride of Arabia; the first Arab group to march in the Official London Pride Parade this July. Moving forward we are planning public interventions which take form as billboards, performances, and sculptures in both Bahrain and London.

Q: What message would you like audiences to take away from your shortlisted work?

The work I create can never be made alone. It almost always requires a small village. I believe it’s important that we stand by each other, support each other, and make each other’s dreams come true. Alone we are strong but together we can make magic. Topple the patriarchy, burn the glass ceiling.

TESSA EASTMAN

Q: Congratulations on being shortlisted for the Young Masters Art Prize. How do you feel about making the shortlist?

Thank you. When I first heard I was one of the ten ceramic artists shortlisted for the Young Masters Maylis Grand Ceramics Prize I was overjoyed and feel especially privileged. This is because the nine other makers are immensely talented and I admire and strongly appreciate all their work. If nothing else, I will feel proud to be showing alongside them. To me, the shortlisted ceramic artists represent the skill and diversity of what is happening in the contemporary ceramics scene using such an age old material steeped in history in new and exciting ways. All their work is well considered, thought provoking and above all timeless to look at just as the Old Masters work is.

Q: Why do you feel your work was shortlisted?

I feel my work was shortlisted as I have worked hard to get where I am now and my CV demonstrates this. My work has evolved over the years and to me feels particularly expressive and intuitive, elements I value in all good art weather made centuries ago or today. I adopt ancient pottery hand-building techniques such as construction using coils and slab forming to explore the theme of clouds. I look at how forms relate to one another to create a curious and playful dialogue between pieces. I chose to write in my application about the Dutch Master painters of the Golden Age which spanned the seventeenth century during and after the war for Dutch Independence. Like my cloud sculptures, I perceive both optimism and obscurity in paintings from this period by artists including Jacob van Ruisdael, Johannes Vermeer and Pieter de Hooch. This is demonstrated in the landscape from 1672 called ‘Haarlem’ by Jacob van Ruisdael where the horizon lowers to the bottom third of the canvas to revel a large expanse of clouds in the sky. The focal point of the steeple of a church in the centre leads one’s vision from the dramatically lit fields into the atmospheric clouds.

Q: What do you feel makes YM unique in the field of current art prizes?

I feel the YM is truly unique in the field of current art prizes because it includes ceramics and paintings shown together. There is an exciting new strand to the prize this year called ‘The Emerging Woman Prize’ which shows how rich and diverse the prize is in looking how it can expand and support emerging artists. The prize is therefore highly specialised and Cynthia Corbett who established the YM has in-depth knowledge in both the arenas of fine art and ceramics. She organises judges of high esteem to form decisions about who should be shortlisted and ultimately win. I know of no other prize that alludes to work of the past and I feel art today is pushing to be ever more current with a disregard for what has come before. I feel all artists should have awareness of the history of what has come before them in order to create work of greater significance.

Q:Tell us a little about your shortlisted work

The Earth’s transient patterns and systems move me and I look at microscopic natural phenomena as a starting point before constructing clay sculptures using traditional pottery hand-building techniques. I aim for a curious and spirited ambiguity to arise just as growth and decay cycles in nature demonstrate. I am in awe of the technical quality demonstrated in the landscape paintings from the Dutch Golden Age period and I feel it is significant they were produced mostly in the studio. The paintings take on imaginative qualities and are less realistic due to the fact they relied on their creator’s imagination which is important to me as I feel producing my work is not about copying directly from nature but reinterpreting it. The Dutch Golden Age paintings have strong tonal qualities because artists chose to soften and blur outlines to focus on generating an atmospheric effect where cloud-ridden skies light up the paintings and contrast against the darker foreground. I appreciate this tonal contrast and feel it relates to my choice of glazed surfaces where I juxtapose matt next to gloss and rough with smooth. The paintings from this period explore space, both within the landscape and with intimate scenes of people such as ‘Courtyard of a House’ by Pieter de Hooch.

Here, the alignment of figures conveys the way I group sculptures where relationships are made of both alliance and tension. I also seek atmospheric qualities as the paintings do with space and paint effects by looking at the physical structure of a piece. For example, I consider space with protruding and inverting where voluminous clouds combine with mesh shapes revealing internal space. The powerful tonal qualities used by painters from this period relates to the power of three dimensional form where sensual rounded shapes are juxtaposed with harsh lines and edges within more geometric areas on a sculpture. By placing my sculptures within domestic and environmental settings, I achieve my goal of relating sculptures to mortality in the same way I find these paintings down to earth with their depictions of people, environment and nature. By referencing the transience of nature in my work, I feel I am getting as close as possible to portraying humanity. Clouds, to me, also represent the force of life because they are containers of water like a vessel and the human body.

Q: Where does this work sit in the context of your wider artistic practice?

Ceramics has often existed on the periphery compared with fine art and these boundaries are constantly being broken down. Working in the medium of ceramics is therefore a motivating place to be as one can choose where to place ones work i.e. in the fine art context, high end craft context or more design or homeware if making functional practical items of use. Ceramics is being appreciated more and more as a sculptural art form. I believe my work sits in the high end craft arena where ceramics is shown in galleries and I hope the YM will help me to be more recognised in this field.

Q: What do you consider your greatest artistic achievement?

I have two greatest artistic achievements. The first was being accepted a place to study at The Royal College of Art Ceramics and Glass Master’s degree course as it is highly competitive and the second is having had a recent show with Puls Contemporary Ceramics Gallery in Brussels where I needed to produce 15 strong pieces in a short space of time which was particularly challenging and was my biggest show to date with a gallery whom I greatly admire as she shows the best of international contemporary ceramic art.

Q: Who/what have been your greatest influences?

I worked for Kate Malone, a renowned British ceramic artist who recently featured on the Great British Pottery Throw Down. She was a great influence on me and taught me just how challenging and rewarding running a business working in clay can be. My family have also influenced me greatly teaching me to put my all into everything I do with daily reminders that working in clay is not a job and I need to get a proper one!

Q: Is your practice affected by wider contemporary issues – global, political, economic?
I don’t read newspapers as every moment I have I am working. I do listen to the radio and although I don’t consciously create political work, I feel no art is created in a vacuum. My work does look at tension in the natural world and the fact that nature is not always as classically beautiful as many artists depict it to be. The same fight to survive in nature is how humanity behaves and evolves. I see the same struggles happening in society and the world at large as we speak. So subconsciously, I feel my work is broadly related to wider contemporary issues but I don’t choose to focus on these themes when I am making, yet there are parallels with my chosen themes of nature hidden and revealed, the tension between shapes like the conflicts between people and the transient life cycle I find so inspiring and engaging.

Q: What will you be working on next?

I have a big solo show next year at The Aspex Gallery in Portsmouth and this will need much consideration, especially seeing how hard it was for me to get 15 pieces together for Puls Gallery. The ‘Snow Clouds’ are new pieces and I would like to try and make these larger which involves bigger technical implications such as working at greater speed as the piece dries out quickly and being able to move a large piece into the kiln when it is so fragile as it has not been fired. I am also having a film made about my work and preparing to take on an assistant in the studio.

Q: What message would you like audiences to take away from your shortlisted work?

I would like audiences to take away the message of timelessness and the value of laboured work and tradition. Like the art of the Old Masters, I believe ceramic work can be timeless in that one can never tire from looking at an object and it can continually feed the viewer and offer them something new each time. I like the fact that viewers can create their own meaning in the work and all worthy art should leave room for the viewer to contemplate. I would like audiences to take away the appreciation of laboured work like that of the Old Masters. Ceramics is a medium that is physically demanding and there can be a high risk of failure at any point in the creative process. To create sculptures in clay can be challenging and the fact the viewer can appreciate this skill and labour of love makes the artist’s task seem worthwhile. Finally, Tradition is important as art is steeped in tradition despite trying to be radical and new. Valuing tradition on a small or great level leads to a deeper impact of the appreciation of art.

DAVID PIDDOCK

Q: Congratulations on being shortlisted for the Young Masters Art Prize.
How do you feel about making the shortlist?

Delighted!

Q: Why do you feel your work was shortlisted?

I think there are many points of contact between my work and the Young Masters concept. I revisit and refresh forgotten disciplines in visual art and make very frequent references and quotes from imagery of the past to inform the present.

Q:What do you feel makes YM unique in the field of current art prizes?

Young Masters is unusual in that it reaches across different media, focuses on work that finds a contemporary response to Old Masters and is quite pro-active with the artists that are shortlisted.

Q:Tell us a little about your shortlisted work

The works submitted to Young Masters are a semi-fictional take on London. Imagery is often plundered from the past to inform the present. And so it is that anything from a tiny 17th century terracotta maquette to a monumental Canova sculpture might materialise in unexpected places like London’s Embankment or the riverside adjacent to the City. There are rarely specific stories in these paintings however, so the spectator is left to wonder at their enigmatic quality, curious juxtapositions, and engaging blend of fact and fiction. Often the emotion or drama expressed in the quoted works of art is in marked contrast to the impassive human presences that haunt my paintings. Just as the ploughman in Breugel’s ‘Fall of Icarus’ goes about his work as the drama unfolds in the landscape behind him, so people here chat into their mobile phones as if absorbed in their own worlds. As W.H. Auden observes in his poem ‘Musee des Beaux Arts’, ”About suffering they were never wrong, the old masters”.

Q: Where does this work sit in the context of your wider artistic practice?

These semi-fictional urban landscapes have dominated my recent body of work and I am working on a similar theme for an upcoming show. Also relevant to the Young Masters concept are my ‘Gallery Paintings’ a contemporary take on a genre mainly popular in the seventeenth century. Sometimes known as cabinet pictures, these ranged from portraits of specific collections to imaginary galleries with complex allegorical content.

Q: What do you consider your greatest artistic achievement?

To be making a life from something I love!

Q:Who/what have been your greatest influences?

Old Masters: Piero della Francesca, Vermeer, Poussin. 20th Century: Spencer, Balthus, Cornell. Today: John Currin, Sam Taylor Wood, Cornelia Parker.

Q: Is your practice affected by wider contemporary issues – global, political, economic?

I have an unusual attitude to art history and aesthetics which you could call ‘postavantgarde’. There is a political dimension to this but the content of my work is generally more personal and poetic in nature.

Q: What will you be working on next?

I am currently working on a new series of paintings for a solo exhibition in November with Adam Gallery in London and Bath.

Q: What message would you like audiences to take away from your shortlisted work?

No one quite knows what is revolutionary in the art world any more!

ISABELLE VAN ZEIJL

Q: Congratulations on being shortlisted for the Young Masters Art Prize.
How do you feel about making the shortlist?

I am very delighted my work is shortlisted for The Young Masters Art Prize. This 2017 edition has proved to be the most successful Young Masters to date. The call for entries was answered by over 775 artists, The Young Masters Art Prize has become an important platform for artists, The team of judges selected 18 artists so Yes, I am very happy my work is shortlisted and recognized by the judges as it refers to the ‘past in the present’.

Q: Why do you feel your work was shortlisted?

All art is made with reference to that which precedes it. The Young Masters Art Prize seeks to unpack this tendency,
celebrating contemporary artists who place this referential process at the centre of their practice. This shortlist features female artists who critically engage with their position within contemporary society and the history of art. In my practise I am fascinated by the art of the past and different perspectives on beauty through the ages. Boundaries fade as I blend techniques and idioms of the Old Masters with present-day aesthetics to create striking portraits. By composing my photographs digitally like a painter by using techniques of the past, my work never compromises on authenticity. Though I am both creator, object and subject, my photographs reach beyond the genre of self-portraiture, creating a timeless vision of female beauty.

Q:What do you feel makes YM unique in the field of current art prizes?
I announce myself as author and muse, subsequently readdressing the intrinsically gendered subject-object relations which typify the genre of portraiture. I assume the painterly lexicon of The Dutch Golden Age while claiming the camera and Photoshop as my tools to cast aspersions over the notion of “timeless beauty”.

Q:Tell us a little about your shortlisted work

In my work I strive to make new beauty statements. I put my own artful stamp on female beauty ideals, showing that role models still have an immense influence. They are still present, powerful, meaningful and timeless. I create timeless icons of beauty like Venus, the Roman goddess of love, reminiscent of Botticelli’s 15th-century Birth of Venus. I impersonate the goddess. surrendering comfort, mobility, proximity and even my own identity for the sake of art. I embody the pain and tragedy that lie behind the pretty picture. Even though a shoot can easily take an entire day it is only the start of the artistic process. It’s like preparing the canvas. The real work, ‘my form of painting’, takes place behind the computer.

Postproduction is a rigorous pixel by pixel affair. Filters are applied to invoke a historical patina reminiscent of Old Master paintings. Skin tone is often heightened and becomes reminiscent of translucent porcelain. Body shapes are morphed to the point of careful emphasis, while keeping freakishness at bay. After all that the women depicted may actually be collages of two, three or even more different pictures. Doubling as my own model I am both subject and object, creator and creation. On set I act out roles, evoking different types of women; archetypes actually. Underneath all this lurks an autobiographical layer. The images ooze sensuality, but I also strive to look resilient and feisty. I am not an empty, pretty shell. My beauty is rather a universally recognisable mask that only partially hides the story beneath.

Q: Where does this work sit in the context of your wider artistic practice?

My work is a blend of various elements throughout history: skin, gazes, beauty, physiognomy and clothing. We have a collective memory, wherein our vision of history is contained and stored. I like to lend traditional, classic poses a humorous twist, to make them contemporary and unexpected by placing them in the current time; bridging the past and the future. This work which is shortlisted for the Young Masters Art Prize, was the starting point to create a series of timeless Icons of Beauty.

Q: What do you consider your greatest artistic achievement?
I am very proud my work is shown by The Cynthia Corbett gallery in Hong Kong, Miami, New York and London. And this year my work is selected for the Royal Academay Summer Exhibition. I am very honoured to show my work in this leading art
exhibition institution of international importance.

Q:Who/what have been your greatest influences?

From Raphael, Rembrandt, Holbein, Dürer, Van Gogh and Picasso, to Egon Schiele, Frida Kahlo, Andy Warhol, Lucebert, Cindy Sherman, Lucian Freud, and Nan Goldin, the history of the visual arts is strewn with examples of self-portraiting artists. Whereas today, any owner of a smartphone can shoot a selfie in a split second and enhance it digitally, in days past, a good self-portrait required a certain degree of talent, dedication and technique. My fine art photography work is driven by a fascination for the female in all her guises and the pursuit of a universal, timeless beauty. For example Venus, the Roman goddess of love, reminiscent of Botticelli’s 15th-century Birth of Venus. In my work I impersonate the goddess. The poses are inspired by 15th century paintings, but also I am inspired by glossy fashion images from photographers like Inez and Vinoodh. My self-portraits bring to mind the work of the Flemish Primitives, Renaissance masters and Golden Age portraitists. They trigger emotional remem-brance and the disposition of the observer.

Q: Is your practice affected by wider contemporary issues – global, political, economic?

I turn an inquisitive eye not only on how we shape our notions of beauty but also the charged relationships between painting and photography, truth and reality. The world is full of relentless imagery of pseudo-glamour masquerading as beauty. In reality this has nothing to do with beauty; it is about conformity, brand and formula. Peddlers of false hopes, hierarchies, religions and pornographies have all pursued and formulated beauty for their own ends. Without character and emotion, there is no beauty and it is too oppressive to present one ideal to women. In my work, I aim to shed light on the beauty myth and role of the female within society.

Q: What will you be working on next?

My fascination for blending traditions, history, symbols, and craftsmanship lead me to the designs of award-winning, Dutch fashion designers Iris van Herpen and Jan Taminiau Both designers express the character and emotions of women, extending and enhancing the shape of the feminine body. They mix craftsmanship, using old and forgotten techniques, with innovation and materials inspired by the world to come. For this reason, I will make a cultural connection with their designs. I will frame myself in the designs of these fashion designers and blend historical icons with contemporary symbols to create timeless icons and new heroes: the role models of today.

Q: What message would you like audiences to take away from your shortlisted work?

Beauty is truth. In contemporary art circles beauty is downright suspicious. Stern critics and Spartan aesthetes label beauty as decoration’s flashy cousin, a camouflage devised to compensate for a lack of conceptual depth. However, I strongly disagree I resists this prevalent, Calvinist attitude. To my beauty is a necessity, an antidote to everyday drudgery and a source of inspiration. Beauty purifies the soul and to create beauty you have to think and feel positive and cut out negativity in your life. It takes courage.

Young Masters Art Prize Shortlist Exhibition at Gallery 8
Gallery 8
8 Duke Street, St James’s, London, SW1Y 6BN
Exhibition runs 19 – 24 June 2017

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