This year’s Woon Foundation Painting and Sculpture Art Prize has been won by Polish-born graduate artist Ramona Zoladek.
The 27-year-old, who graduated in July from Anglia Ruskin University in East Anglia, received her prize in a ceremony at Northumbria University tonight.
“I can’t believe it,” said Ramona. “I feel very lucky to be chosen. I never expected to be shortlisted, let along win.
“It’s the most amazing thing that could happen to me. I can now fully dedicate my time to working in the studio and not worrying about funding for materials. This is a dream for any artist.
“It will be a great start to my artistic career. Hopefully I will develop my practice and build a professional portfolio and profile.
“The overall experience will give me confidence.”
Ramona, who grew up in Poland and moved to England seven years ago, makes work exploring the relationship between nature, objects and architecture.
Her winning piece, exhibited at Northumbria’s Gallery North as part of the exhibition by the 10 shortlisted artists, is composed of concrete and plaster planks that have living roots and seedlings embedded in them.
She explained: “The tension between solid building materials and organic matter is obvious and naive but, at the same time, exciting.
“I pay particular attention to those prominent features of the landscape which are supposed to be familiar but are not easily recognisable.
“Once constructed for the purpose of habitation, they are now abandoned places, overgrown by nature – crumbling, decaying, becoming part of the landscape.”
Having scooped the top prize, Ramona receives a £20,000 bursary and will move to Newcastle for a year where she will have use of the Woon Tai Jee studio space in the BxNU Institute of Contemporary Art at Baltic 39 and receive mentoring from Northumbria’s Baltic professor, Christine Borland.
The awards, worth £40,000 in all, are due to the generosity of Singapore-based Northumbria law graduate and philanthropist Wee Teng Woon whose late father, Woon Tai Jee, is commemorated by the top prize.
At tonight’s ceremony he said: “I am delighted to offer this career-changing opportunity to such a gifted young artist.
“Ramona’s residence in Baltic 39 will allow her to actively engage with the rich North East art community.”
The second prize, worth £9,000 and named after Mr Woon’s late mother Lim Ai Fang, went to Emilie Atkinson from the Slade School of Fine Art. The £6,000 Cheong Kam Hee Art Prize, named after Mr Woon’s father’s late second wife, went to Sam Baker from Kingston University.
A £5,000 consolation prize was split between Catherine Ross, from Gray’s School of Art, Robert Gordon University, and Eleni Odysseos of the University of Leeds.
Prof Borland said: “Mr Woon and his family’s investment in artists at the very beginning of their careers is a unique gesture of support for, and belief in, the future of contemporary sculpture and painting.”
Work by the shortlisted artists remains on display at Gallery North, Sandyford Road, until Friday. An exhibition by Holly Hendry, winner of last year’s inaugural top prize, opens there on September 24.