Ten young artists, all recent graduates, are in contention for one of the most valuable art prizes in the country.
The prizes on offer from Singapore-based lawyer, art collector and philanthropist Wee Teng Woon are worth £40,000, putting them on a par with the Turner Prize.
Mr Woon, who studied law at Newcastle Polytechnic (now Northumbria University), established the prizes in memory of family members and to benefit young artists and the North East.
“This prize is one way that I can give back to the region and help to nurture talented new artists,” he said.
“The North East has a vibrant cultural and artistic energy and this competition enhances the standing of the region in the arts world.”
Mr Woon refers to the prize in the singular but he actually supports first, second and third prizes plus consolation prizes worth £5,000 to be awarded at the judges’ discretion.
The biggest prize, the Woon Tai Jee Memorial Prize, is named after Mr Woon’s late father and earns the winner a £20,000 bursary, use of a studio space at Baltic 39 and mentoring from Christine Borland, Northumbria University’s Baltic Professor and a Turner Prize-nominated artist.
The inaugural winner of the prize, 24-year-old Holly Hendry, who graduated from London’s Slade School of Fine Art, is coming to the end of her year-long spell in Newcastle but will present a solo exhibition in September at Northumbria University’s Gallery North where work by the current shortlisted artists is on view.
Offering advice to the artist destined to follow in her footsteps, she said: “Work ambitiously, make the most of having the amazing studio space, the time to create and the people around you.”
The second prize, woth £9,000, is named after Mr Woon’s late mother, Lim Ai Fang, and the third, worth £6,000, after his father’s late second wife, Cheong Kam Hee.
This year’s shortlisted artists are Ana Gold (Central St Martins), Anna Hughes (Dundee School of Art), Catherine Ross (Gray’s School of Art, Robert Gordon University, Aberdeen), Eleni Odysseos (University of Leeds), Emilie Atkinson (Slade School of Fine Art), Emily Motto (Ruskin School, Oxford University), Helen McCartney (University of Sunderland), Lisa Evans (Coleg Sir Gâr, Carmarthenshire), Ramona Zoladek (Anglia Ruskin University) and Sam Baker (Kingston University).
Helen McCartney said: “I think the Woon Art Prize represents the greatest opportunity for final year arts students in this country.
“It attracts talent to the North East. I was born in Durham so it’s important to me that this area gets the recognition that it deserves nationally.”
Sam Baker said: “I believe a Woon Tai Jee fellowship is an extremely prestigious prize that would provide me with a fantastic springboard for my practice beyond the walls of art school and into the art world.
“This opportunity will also allow me to expand my artist’s network, opening up an exciting chance for critical discussions with a new and diverse range of professional individuals as well as the freedom to live and work in a new city.”
Ana Gold agreed, saying: “I think it’s a really exciting opportunity to carry on my education without being in an institution. Working with currently practicing artists and having access to workshops and your own studio is very important.”
Prof Borland chairs the judging panel which also includes Judith King, director of Arts & Heritage, Lisa Le Feuvre, head of sculpture studies at the Henry Moore Institute, and Francis McKee, director of the Centre for Contemporary Arts in Glasgow.
The shortlisted work is on show at Gallery North, Northumbria University, Sandyford Road, Newcastle, until September 19. The winner will be announced on September 16.