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Wales Contemporary winners make a splash at Milford Haven’s Waterfront Gallery

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Alan Salisbury’s show-winning work.

Wales Contemporary winners make a splash at Milford Haven’s Waterfront Gallery

By James Brewer

 Winners have been announced in the 2020 edition of Wales Contemporary/Cymru Gyfoes, an international open exhibition “celebrating everything that makes Wales Welsh.”

After being on show at the Waterfront Gallery, Milford Haven, the short-listed entries will be transported for display at the Gallery@OXO, by the Thames in London.

Robyn Neild’s bronze sculpture, Resting Boat.

Not only is the show whole-heartedly cross-category, but the overall winning entry is too. That top award, known as the Wales Contemporary Prize, went to Alan Salisbury for his work provocatively entitled Isaak Soreau Basket of Fruit attacked by Brexit gremlins.

In this clever composition, a classic 17th century still life bursting with luscious cherries and peaches is subverted by demons, the like of which Hieronymus Bosch would have been proud.

The baroque study that is a platform for Alan Salisbury’s satire is by Isaak Soreau (1604-1644), who was the son of an Antwerp painter who spent an influential period of his life in the metropolis on the River Scheldt.

Decommissioning. By Philip Muirden.

Lancashire-born Alan, who has lived in Wales since 1974, says that the still life genre is always about much more than the casual arrangement of ordinary objects. It is full of allegories, stories, and meanings. He sought to extend and add to the detail and an intense focus on graphic clarity of a tradition deeply rooted in Northern European painting. Here he inserts a contemporary element – the niggling barbs of Brexit – into a faithful reproduction of the original.

Alan, who paints chiefly in oil on board, was formerly principal lecturer in painting and field leader in arts and media at the University of Glamorgan of which he is now an external fellow.

Wales Contemporary/Cymru Gyfoes is an international open competition for artworks inspired by the country’s people, landscape, art history, traditions, and contemporary culture. It was developed by the Waterfront Gallery in association with the Welsh Government and with the support of sponsors which for the 2020 exhibition included Valero Petroleum, Milford Haven Port Authority, and Waterfront Gallery benefactors Rob and Tessa Thompson and George James.

Southerndown Triptych. By Evie Banks.

Now in its second year, the event has established a reputation for championing art about Wales and from Wales. It has been described by artists and visitors as “a fantastic opportunity,” “a signal of the wealth of creativity in the country” and “a celebration of Wales’s land and culture in art.”

More than 1,150 submissions came from 600 artists living in the UK and Europe and beyond: Australia, Canada, Chile, China, Japan, Russia, and the United States. The entries were considered by a panel of judges: painter Basil Beattie RA, emeritus professor of fine art Gerda Roper, and sculptor Sebastien Boyesen, who selected just over 150 pieces for the exhibition.

The Landing, North Wales cottage. By Sue Wales.

There was a memorable opening on November 12 at the gallery which is being posted on YouTube so that those artists who were unable to visit for all the reasons that Covid brings will have an opportunity to feel part of the celebration.

Only 15 people attended the opening (to comply with Covid regulations), with the deputy minister for culture Lord Dafydd Elis-Thomas and some of the sponsors making a virtual appearance using Zoom.  The minister spoke warmly of the exhibition and commended the gallery on managing to make it a real show.  Even though full lockdown in Wales has ended, numbers in the gallery are controlled and everyone must be masked.

The volunteer-run Pembrokeshire gallery, founded in 2003, was converted from the Old Sail Loft at Milford Docks on the Haven Waterway and is a registered charity.

Among the winners was Robyn Neild, who took the first prize in 3-dimensional entries for her bronze sculpture, Resting Boat. She sees “beauty and sadness in the decaying hulls of abandoned fishing boats” seen sometimes on the North Wales coast. Describing the work, she said: “The relationship between industry, man, and the sea swings like a pendulum. My sculpture captures a moment of these sentinels, make a solid memory, a history.”

Reservoir above farmhouse. By Peter Archer.

Robyn Neild has been a fashion illustrator for the last 20 years working for clients ranging from Givenchy, Vivienne Westwood, Elizabeth Arden to Hush Puppies, Barnes & Noble and United Airlines. The new exhibit is among her first series of limited-edition sculptures cast in bronze.

The prize for artists born, educated or resident in Wales went to Philip Muirden for Decommissioning. He has produced a range of marine images in a variety of media.

Evie Banks won the Young Artist prize for her boldly colourful Southerndown Triptych. Her composition in acrylic and graphic pen on canvas was inspired by the natural landscape of Southerndown, a village in south Wales celebrated for its beach. She aimed “to open up a refreshing and sentient perspective of the landscape.”

Out to Grass. By Sally Amoore.

In all, the 2020 exhibition offers a panorama of the country’s landscapes, including photorealistic depictions and impressionistic evocations, from its snowy mountain tops to its valley villages, from mining communities to industrial cities, from green farmlands to picturesque coasts… and even depictions of lockdown life.

The shortlisted artworks will be on view at the Waterfront Gallery, Milford Haven, until  December 30 2020 and at the Gallery@OXO from February 25 to 7 March 7 2021.

Full prize list:

  • Wales Contemporary Prize – overall winner: Alan Salisbury forIsaak Soreau Basket of Fruit attacked by Brexit gremlins
  • 2-Dimensional 1st Prize: Peter Archer forReservoir above farmhouse.
  • 2-Dimensional 2nd Prize: Sue Wales forThe Landing, North Wales cottage
  • 3-Dimensional 1st Prize: Robyn Neild forResting Boat.
  • 3-Dimensional 2nd Prize: Sally Amoore forOut to Grass.
  • Young Artist Prize (25 and under): Evie Banks forSoutherndown Triptych. In the same category, highly commended was Fed Bannister forGreen and Grey
  • Prize for artists born, educated or resident in Wales: Philip Muirden forDecommissioning.
  • All visitors to the gallery until mid-December are invited to vote for the Public Choice Prize.

News and announcements about the exhibition can be followed on social media using #WalesContemporary.

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