St. David’s Hall, Cardiff
It would be impossible to write about the Wales Artist of the Year show without mentioning Gemma Copp, so let’s start with her prize-winning video, ‘Rising Tides’. The artist, dressed in white, begins by pulling a small boat into the frame, somewhere over Swansea Bay. She sits in the boat and waits for high tide, as the boat rocks and the sea nears. But the sea cannot wholly push the boat away. It is not quite able to take the boat, nor the artist, out to the vast swathes of ocean that act as a metaphor for escape. The video is thirteen minutes long, but this does not mean you should feel obliged to watch this static yet subtle performance for this amount of time. It is a clever piece that acts almost like a moving painting.
And how does the rest of the artwork stand? I can only guess that Jamie Oliver’s kitsch post-apocalyptic escape scene – a young girl implausibly leaving a burnt-out cityscape on the back of a black horse – made the shortlist more because of his keyboard-playing in the Lostprophets. It doesn’t seem likely that the judges took a sudden liking to DeviantArt-inspired works. While the technical skill may be there, the tired subject matter in his painting reminds me of a final project piece from an A-Level art course.
A better interpretation of the same subject matter could be found nearby in Geraint Evans’ ink drawing, ‘Penarth Heights 1’. Having entered the derelict (and now demolished) Billy Banks estate earlier this year, Evans has drawn some of the scenes he found inside, as nature began to overtake the boarded-up flats overlooking Cardiff Bay. In Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club, Tyler Durden famously pictures a future in which the reader will ‘climb the wrist-thick kudzu vines that wrap the Sears Tower,’ predicting that when they look down they ‘will see tiny figures pounding corn, laying strips of venison on the empty carpool lane of some abandoned superhighway.’ Seeing Evans’ drawing, it is far easier to imagine this type of future for our species than Oliver’s highly imaginative yet clichéd depiction.
As a result, it is a pity that the young Evans was overlooked for the better-known name – or a prize at all, for that matter. His drawings are technically excellent, and he has an eye for capturing detail. It is also a pity that this show is in such a venue as the busy foyer of St. David’s Hall. This takes away the viewer’s concentration when attempting to appreciate the art on display – though to be brutally honest, the show had more misses than hits. For a prize with such a grand title, I can only say that this is down to the selectors and judges rather than the state of Welsh art in 2012.