When the artist Evelyn Williams founded her small trust in 1991, its principal aim was to support artists and further the practice of drawing. The Trust funded a series of substantial drawing awards initially focused on art colleges. At that time the Turner Prize was barely ten years old. Now, this year, we are delighted to see one of the Trust’s more recent beneficiaries, the artist Barbara Walker MBE RA, winner of the 2017 Evelyn Williams’ Drawing Award, now nominated for the 37th Turner Prize. Over recent years she has featured with wall drawings in the important Venice Biennale exhibition entitled Diaspora, has been a Bridget Riley Fellow at the British School in Rome, and her nomination for the Turner Prize stems from her presentation in the 2022 Sharjah Biennale of an exhibition she entitled Burden of Proof. The journey of Barbara Walker’s recent works was in part initiated by the Vanishing Point project facilitated by the inaugural Evelyn Williams Drawing Award, and the resultant exhibition at Hastings Contemporary in 2018 and subsequent developments with representation through her gallery, Cristea Roberts.
Barbara Walker | Visual Artist | Vanishing Point
Currently on view at Hastings Contemporary until 3rd March 2024 is The Fourth Wall, an installation using sculptural elements, drawing and mixed media by Roland Hicks.
Roland was the recipient of the Evelyn Williams Drawing Award in 2021 for his drawing Double Chip/Shuffle Zip and his accompanying proposal to transform a gallery space at Hastings Contemporary. The Fourth Wall is the third exhibition resulting from the Trust’s collaboration with Drawing Projects UK, the Trinity Buoy Wharf Drawing Prize, and Hastings Contemporary, following on from Penny McCarthy’s exhibition Cloud Falls in Love with mortal.
Roland Hicks produces art which demands a double-take from the viewer. You could walk into the space at Hastings Contemporary and mentally register that the space seems under some sort of gimcrack, bodged renovation, that the exhibition had not yet arrived, but that temporary refurbishment and adaptation was underway. Hicks riffs on twentieth century modernism but also is happy to prompt associative play of an array of competing notions. A makeshift wall put in place to defend or guard against what? Whilst building towards his installation Hicks reflected:
“All illusionistic art involves some kind of deception. These walls will effectively be built from misinformation and misdirection.”
The play of allusions runs rife and is light touch on some of the pressing conditions of our times. The Fourth Wall aims to be ambiguous, enigmatic even, certainly intriguing. As Hicks says: “I definitely prefer art that keeps asking interesting questions rather than trying to offer up easy answers or obvious explanations. Though, if I had to pin it down, I think I’d say that this show, like the rest of my work, probably all revolves around the slippery notion of ‘truthfulness’, both in art and life in general.”
Roland Hicks - Hastings Contemporary
Liz Gilmore the Director at Hastings Contemporary has described the biennial award and the tie in with an exhibition down the line as “a brilliant initiative”. Liz and her team, working with Anita Taylor the Director of Drawing Projects UK and Evelyn Williams Trust Chair, Nicholas Usherwood, this year sifted through 59 submissions from artists featuring in the 2023 Trinity Buoy Wharf Drawing Prize. The current exhibition is a remarkable 30th edition of the annual drawing prize show, steered so imaginatively and ably by Anita Taylor, offering support and advocacy for the place of drawing in contemporary art and reflecting the infinite capacities of the medium, through Drawing Projects UK.
The recipient of the 2023 Evelyn Williams Drawing Award in the current Trinity Buoy Wharf Drawing Prize exhibition is Isabel Rock.
Earthly paradise by Isabel Rock
Isabel says this about her art, having exhibited in the RA, in Berlin, and in several London shows in the last few years following a Masters at the RCA:
“It is the job of an artist to hold up a mirror to the world and the climate crisis is the biggest threat to humanity we face. There is a rapidly closing window to avert the worst effects of it, apart from direct action I feel that this is the most important thing I can be doing… My practice of the last few years has become increasingly focused on an imaginative, surreal vision of the world after climate breakdown has wreaked its havoc. Recent drawings have a strong narrative looking at systems of commerce, power structures, the complexities of desire, objects of value, the fallibility of human nature and the enterprising charm of human endeavour.”
When asked to open the inaugural Welsh Drawing Biennale in 1997, Evelyn Williams reflected on just what drawing should aim for. While her own approach was to the figurative, her thoughts were not about some banal sort of reproduction of reality:
“I suspect that drawing is to do with tension, and making constant adjustments, one line from another. That is what drawing is. An ambition for a drawing would be of a force that builds as it travels across the surface of the paper, ending in an image that breathes. If it succeeds it is because of tension. If it fails, it is because the line has become slack and when the line sags, we are left with something that isn't drawing - rather a vague shadow of what it might have been. I believe objects, a flower, a portrait, contains a truth wrapped around by its appearance, and that what you see isn't necessarily the truth at all. There are veils behind which there are more layers, more to discover, perhaps something quite different, and behind the layers, the kernel of the subject. Only by stripping them away can the centre be discovered, and the outside does not describe that at all.”
Needless to say, Isabel has winning and ambitious ideas for her eventual show at Hastings Contemporary, and the £10,000 award from the Trust will give her time and scope to achieve them. Congratulations and best wishes from the Trust to her and to Roland Hicks and to Barbara Walker in their current artistic endeavours.