Kyffin Williams Prize


Various Artists

Oriel Ynys Môn, Llangefni


There’s a certain idea that has gained some credibility in more conservative art circles. As a backlash to increasingly conceptual pieces of visual art, some have been labelling anything slightly abstract as having suffered from The Emperor’s New Clothes Syndrome. I hope you’ll agree that no further explanation is necessary for this disparaging term, if you grew up in Northern Europe.

While I would never consider myself a conservative, I cannot help but think that there is a touch of the Emperor’s New Clothes Syndrome in Chloe Holt’s winning piece in the Kyffin Williams Drawing Prize. Titled ‘Beina’ and coming first out of around a hundred selected works, it is certainly not the most technical and nowhere near the most imaginative in this show.

The idea for the piece is a clever one. ‘Beina’ can mean to turn or travel, and also to straighten or tidy up. A boat sits proudly next to what seems like a shoreline. Four chair legs stand at the top of the picture, or what looks like them – perhaps they’ve intuitively been put there. Everything looks scratched out rather than delicately drawn. Put in the context of the title (which sits beneath the shoreline in a bold white), ‘Beina’ is shown to have a double and paradoxical meaning. The boat is neither manned nor looks capable, in its misty depiction, of travel. The legs and the overall ‘scratched’ and marked quality of the picture looks neither tidy (in the word’s conventional understanding) or in need of tidying up.

However, to understand the picture in this way requires patience, as the artist gives no immediate clues. And the highly solipsistic explanation blurb shows little clarity of thought or desire to inform the reader or viewer. Calling your own works ‘always poetic and beautiful’ in the catalogue does little to help either. It is we the viewers who decide whether the qualities on display merit such a description, not the artist.

As a caveat, I might add that the award of any such prize is subjective and the artist probably cares more about the views of the judges (including Mary Lloyd Jones and Prof. Derec Llwyd Morgan) and the £3000 prize money. But to be honest, I preferred Rorik Smith‘s panoramic ‘Archives, Marine Terrace’, which won the student prize. The Escher-type perspective shows the bustle of an Archival records department from a 180-degree angle, and Smith has perfectly captured an intimate story of observation in his drawing.

Also of note is David Rees Davies’s unfortunately titled ‘Kebab’, justified by stating that he ‘always think(s) standing in queues is like being skewered in a kebab.’ Davies has drawn a playful collection of figures, including the Mari Lwyd, in a line. It is just a pity that this simple idea and delightful piece could not also be infused with The Emperor’s New Clothes Syndrome.