When visiting a prize’s exhibition it’s not just about the winners but also the strength and depth of the shortlisted artists, and in this show I was impressed by at least one work in every section – coming across new artists and those familiar to me. Submitted around the broad theme of ‘seeing the unseen, hearing the unspoken’ this exhibition presents an excellent array of artists.
It’s the figurative works that grabbed me at first as it’s hard not to be drawn to Caroline Burraway’s large-scale triptych in charcoal. A face gradually erodes across the three pieces, but it still manages to hold us with its intense stare that almost makes me miss the threads on the piece that represent the arduous journeys that refugees and immigrants often make.
Thomas Cameron paints fast food workers in a kitchen, drawing attention to this army of workers who are often poorly paid and hidden behind the scenes so we only interact with either the waiting staff or the delivery drivers at the other end of the chain bringing the food to us. There’s also playfulness in paint in Ruth Swain’s painting of the back of a head obscuring a Vermeer painting – a view we’ve all had to deal with at busy museum shows.
As I walked around the show it also allowed me to appreciate the subtler works such as Mayaan Sophia Weisstub’s chair and desk with a book and milk on top that all appear to inhale and exhale as if they are living, referencing how furniture can carry memories of the persons that once used them. Subtler still, and along a similar theme of memory, Matt Lee’s paper constructions based on the architecture of Bangalore are based on his memories of the building and how this memory fades over time.
Switching to other materials Isobel Scarsbrook’s brilliant England scarf includes the misogynistic comments made about women’s football, Elias Mendel has a powerful stop motion film around his Jewish heritage and Sarah Gillespie’s mezzotint engraving of a Garden Tiger Moth remarks on how decline of the species and how moths are often overlooked compared to butterflies and yet are vital to many ecosystems.
The show also has two worthy winners in Curtis Holder’s coloured pencil drawing of black men having an intimate conversation, an artist I’m partial to given he was a winner in a different prize that I judged. While Will Bacon’s work made entirely of found lottery scratch cards and their shavings is a bittersweet monument to the initial hope and ultimate disappointment that almost all scratch card players have felt.
The 6th John Ruskin Prize exhibition is on at The Buoy Store, Trinity Buoy Wharf until 17 February. It’s free to visit.
Images from top to bottom are copyright the following artists: Thomas Cameron, Maayan Sophia Weisstub and Curtis Holder.