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Tears as Kayt Hughes is announced winner of the Woon Foundation Art Prize

The third winner of one of Britain’s most valuable art prizes will soon be no stranger to Newcastle. David Whetstone reports

Kayt Hughes, winner of the Woon Foundation Art Prize 2015
Kayt Hughes, winner of the Woon Foundation Art Prize 2015

Tears were shed as Kayt Hughes was announced as the winner of the Woon Foundation Art Prize 2015.

“I’m in complete shock, to be honest,” said the 22-year-old from Manchester after her name was pulled from the envelope during the ceremony at the Baltic 39 gallery in Newcastle.

“You never want to miss any opportunities that might be going and you never know what’s going to happen – but I really wasn’t expecting to get anything.”

It has been a good summer so far for Kayt who has just graduated with first class honours in fine art from Nottingham Trent University.

Her prize is a £20,000 fellowship and a studio for 12 months at Baltic 39 under the supervision of Northumbria University’s Baltic Professor, Turner Prize-nominated Christine Borland, who did the job of opening the envelope.

Twelve artists from around the country were shortlisted for the competition which is open to final year fine art undergraduates at UK institutions.

Kayt’s eye-catching wooden sculpture in the finalists’ exhibition at Baltic 39 is called Study Scores, 2nd Movement.

She said it had been inspired by a piece of music she had improvised on the saxophone.

“I kept playing some wrong notes and drew a scale of these notes using maps, lines and colours.”

She said she had never been to Newcastle before coming to drop off her work for the exhibition.

“I spent a few hours here but it’s a lovely city and a really exciting and creative place to be. I’m going to grasp this chance with both hands and focus more than ever on my work. I want to keep developing.”

Kayt said artists she admired included John Cage, the minimalist composer, Marcel Duchamp, famous for his ‘Fountain’ urinal, and the American sculptor and conceptual artist Robert Morris – “I absolutely love Robert Morris”.

Kayt said: “I don’t just work in sculpture. I work through sculpture, photography, performance and video, so I’ve got quite a multi-disciplinary practice. It’s quite intuitive what I need to do. I’ve done a lot of experimental video and sound work.”

Kayt Hughes, winner of the Woon Foundation Art Prize, with Jeremy Woon
Kayt Hughes, winner of the Woon Foundation Art Prize, with Jeremy Woon

Godfrey Worsdale, director of Baltic, said the Woon Foundation Art Prize brought the Gateshead centre for contemporary art even closer to Northumbria University in what was a developing collaboration between the two.

Northumbria’s BxNU Institute, a base for contemporary art practice and research, is based at the Baltic 39 studio and gallery complex on Newcastle’s High Bridge.

“In many respects this is the best art award I’ve ever come across,” said Mr Worsdale.

“The reason I’m so passionate about it is that it focuses on a moment in the career of artists that I find tremendously exciting.

“For people graduating from BA courses in fine art, it’s a very competitive and challenging world. They are finding their way as artists while having to deal with course fees and and other aspects of everyday life.

“But I think a prize like this can be transformative. In the first couple of years we’ve seen some great artists come through this competition.

“Holly Hendry won the first award. Earlier this year I was in a major international art fair and found a really good piece of art that she had made.”

Before announcing the winners – there are several prizes, together worth £40,000 – Prof Borland said they stood to gain “a moment of respite in the crazy career you’ve chosen”.

For the winner of the main prize it would mean “freedom – but supported freedom”.

The valuable and presitigious prizes are the gift of Mr Wee Teng Woon, a Singapore-based art lover and collector who studied at Northumbria University and wanted to give something back.

The various prizes, awarded by his son Jeremy Woon, commemorate members of his family.

The second prize of £9,000 went to Jacob Watmore (Central Saint Martins College, London) and the third prize of £6,000 to Queenie Clarke (Camberwell College of Arts).

A discretionary prize of £5,000 was split between Martin Darbyshire (Leeds College of Art) and Jadé Fadojutimi (Slade School of Fine Art, London).

This year’s judges were Jenni Lomax, director of Camden Arts Centre, Fiona Bradley, director of Edinburgh’s Fruitmarket Gallery, and Laurence Sillars, chief curator at Baltic.

Kayt will take up her fellowship in September following the second winner of the Woon Foundation Art Prize, Polish-born Ramona Zoladek, who studied at Anglia Ruskin University.

The work by this year’s shortlisted artists remains on display at Baltic 39 until August 2 (open Wednesday to Sunday). Check www.baltic39.com

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