Emerging artists have their eyes on the prize
Art The Ashurst Emerging Artist Prize doesn't simply offer gallery space and a cheque to winners. It offers all entrants support and advice at a crucial point in their careers.
“It's not enough for emerging artists to simply have their work hung on a wall,” says Conrad Carvalho, Art Consultant and Prize Director of the Ashurst Emerging Artist Prize. “They need support and guidance, and they need to be able to promote themselves, manage their finances, engage with their audience and deal with potential buyers. This doesn't always come naturally to creative people; but these skills are essential to have because... well... they have to eat, after all.”
"Artists need to be able to promote themselves, manage their finances, engage with their audience and deal with potential buyers."
The fact is, he says, many fine art graduates don't earn enough and so have to give up their careers as practising artists. Which is partly why international law firm Ashurst created the Ashurst Emerging Artist Prize. Its aim is to support art-makers when they need it the most: at the beginning of their careers, whether they are recent graduates or later-life career returners/changers.
The Prize grew from an Emerging Artist Programme
The Prize made its debut in 2015, but has already generated a buzz in the art world. After the success of its first year, it returned in 2016 with larger prizes and an additional Sculpture Prize. “The reaction has been really interesting,” says Carvalho. “Some art projects stall after a year or two; but ours hasn't just continued — it's grown bigger. As a result, we've had lots of enthusiasm from art dealers, buyers, collectors and journalists.”
"Many fine art graduates don't earn enough and so have to give up their careers as practising artists."
The Prize grew organically out of Ashurst's Emerging Artist Programme, which was established in 2014 with the launch of a dedicated sixth floor gallery in the firm's London office. This, along with other viewing areas, enables Ashurst to exhibit a wide variety of work every few months in a range of media, including painting, photography, embroidery and sculpture.
“We're committed to the communities in which we're based, and being involved in their flourishing art scenes is integral to that,” says Anna Delgado, Partner at Ashurst and member of the judging panel for the Emerging Artist Prize. “Our colleagues and clients also enjoy having artwork in our offices because it creates a unique atmosphere, encourages creative thinking and provides an interesting talking point before meetings.”
Mirjam Siim, winner of the Ashurst Emerging Artist Prize 2016
A respected award, but still open to all
The Ashurst Emerging Artist Prize is unique, says Carvalho, because it doesn't simply award prize money to talented artists and sculptors — important though that is. “It also gives them the tools to be self-sustaining,” he says. “That's because we offer online promotion for everyone who enters the competition; we give them feedback on their applications so that they can improve when they enter future Prizes; and we run a series of career development talks, supported by Ashurst that also builds a supportive community.” These have included How to Promote Your Art, How to Promote Yourself, How to Attract Representation (from art dealers and galleries, for example), and How to Grow Your Art Career. Winning artists also have the opportunity to exhibit their work in the firm's gallery.
There's no age restriction for entrants. “Last year, the youngest artist was 19, and the oldest was 70 or 80,” says Carvalho. Previous winners include Eirik Broll Stalheim, who already had an figurative art career in Norway but came to the UK to study for a degree in Fine Art at City of Guilds London Art School in order to develop his practice away from commissions. “Eirik has an amazing ability to paint,” says Carvalho. “He entered the competition and showed us a wide range of his work, that departed from his previously purely figurative art, which was fascinating. Ashurst employees immediately recognised his great skill from seeing his artwork in the office.”
Then there's Bob Aldous, shortlisted for the 2015 Prize, who creates abstract paintings on silk. “He was picked up by a gallery and exhibited at the London Art Fair and the Yehudi Menuhin Concert Hall and is a great example of someone who has progressed really well since entering the competition,” says Carvalho.
"This year, 3743 artworks were entered by 1516 artists. The Prize is becoming very popular."
The Ashurst Emerging Artist Prize may be young, but artists are clamouring to be included. In 2015, the competition received 600 artworks by 273 artists. For 2017, 3743 artworks were entered by 1516 artists, but only 25 can be shortlisted for four individual prizes. Apart from the main Emerging Artist Prize, these are the Emerging Artist Employee Choice Prize, the Emerging Sculptor Prize, and the Emerging Artist Prize for Rich Mix. All will be judged by a respected panel, including Dr David Bellingham, art historian, author and Programme Director at Sotheby's Institute of Art, and sculptor and mixed media artist Adeline de Monseignat, who is represented by the Ronchini Gallery in Mayfair and is a role model for many emerging artists. Winners will be announced at a ceremony at the Ashurst offices in September.
The award is becoming more international
“The Emerging Artist Prize is becoming very popular,” says Carvalho. “So, next year, we have to be prepared for even more applications. The award is also becoming more international. That's good: we want to offer support and transferable skills to a growing global audience of emerging artists and find ways to connect with them from our base in London.”
And while it's exciting to think that the Prize may be uncovering the undiscovered talent of tomorrow, Delgado stresses that this is not Ashurst's main aim. “That would be nice,” she says. “But the Prize is really about ensuring that artists can carry on with their art, develop and grow. Emerging artists are the ones who need this kind of help the most.”
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