Winners of New Light Art Prize shine brightly at Birkenhead’s Willamson Art Gallery exhibition

The winners of the prestigious New Light Art Prize have been announced at the opening of the Prize Exhibition at the Williamson Art Gallery and Museum in Birkenhead on Friday 29 September.

Experts, enthusiasts, curators, and art gallery owners joined together with one hundred of the shortlisted artists who waited in anticipation for the results.

The biennial New Light Art Prize shines a light on Northern artists, celebrating the immense talent the region has to offer.

The winners, who are from Northumberland, Cheshire, Yorkshire, and Lancashire have done incredibly well to be crowned victorious as the judges had to wade through thousands of entries. 

The winners, and those 121 shortlisted will have their art feature in a 14-month long exhibition which takes on the length and breadth of the country in prolific galleries such as Bankside Gallery in London, The Rheged Arts Centre in Penrith, The Biscuit Factory in Newcastle, The Mercer Art Gallery in Harrogate and of course, The Williamson Art Gallery & Museum in Birkenhead where it begins and will run until 22 December. 

The winners

The New Light Valeria Sykes Award – winning £10,000 – Frances Bell, ‘Lockdown’

Frances has lived in Wooler in Northumberland, not far from Newcastle, for the past 20 years. Born in 1983, after developing an early interest in drawing and painting, she pursued art and art history, making her way to Florence to pursue classical training at Charles H. Cecil Studios in 2001 for three years, where she taught sporadically for the further seven summers. Since completing her training, Frances has been a full-time professional portrait and landscape painter, exhibiting internationally and across the UK.

Frances Bell, ‘Lockdown’

The £2,500 New Light Patron’s Choice Award – Robert Cook, ‘Bog Bumper Emerging from the Moss’ 

Robert lives in Poulton-le-Fylde in Lancashire. After graduating in scientific illustration at Blackpool & The Fylde College, Robert worked as an illustrator before going into teaching, sharing his knowledge of drawing, painting and passion for nature as a lecturer in scientific illustration. Since leaving education, he has worked as a wildlife artist honing his craft.

Robert Cook, ‘Bog Bumper Emerging from the Moss’ 

The New Light Emerging Artists Award sponsored by Saul Hay Gallery – where the winner has been awarded mentoring, professional advice and an exhibition at Saul Hay Gallery in Manchester – George Melling, ‘During the Endless Night She Felt Herself Losing Her Mind’.

George is from Preston in Lancashire. After finishing his MA at Chelsea College of Art, George taught at Kingston University before moving back to Lancashire in 2000 where he set up his own painting practice. Working as a butcher two days a week to enable George to focus on his artwork for the rest of the week, his current body of work draws on images from photographs of family and friends from childhood, representing an interrogation of the past, what we inherit, what we cherish and what we discard.

George Melling, ‘During the Endless Night She Felt Herself Losing Her Mind’

The New Light Printmakers’ Prize sponsored by Zillah Bell Gallery – the winner will be offered a solo or group exhibition at the Zillah Bell gallery in North Yorkshire, host to some of the UK’s very best printmakers’ shows – Neil Bousfield, ‘Bewick’s Place’ – multiple 16 block reduction relief engraving and woodcut (16cm x 32cm).

Neil was born in Middlesborough and grew up in the coastal village of Marske-by-the-Sea and Redcar in North Yorkshire. He studied at Cleveland College of Art & Design in Middlesborough and Teesside University, Middlesborough. He now lives on the North Norfolk coast. He works within the discipline of relief printmaking and contemporary wood engraving. ‘Bewick’s Place’ comprises 16 small square blocks to represent a grid or a plotting and mapping method, which have been engraved, cut and printed using the reduction method. Each block has been engraved in sections and printed as one.

Neil Bousfield, ‘Bewick’s Place’

New Light Purchase Prize – The winner will be included in the New Light Collection – Christine Stables – ‘The Art of Balance’.

Christine lives in Stockport in Cheshire. After working as a textile artist for many years, Christine became an abstract painter in 2019 so that she could mix and use her own colours to suit her work. She uses acrylic paint, glazes and inks, and in her winning piece ‘The Art of Balance’ she uses organic shapes, created with loose white lines, showing off the colour orange by using contrasts in textures, translucency, opacity and complimentary colour.

Christine Stables – ‘The Art of Balance’.

Rebekah Tadd, Development Director at New Light says, “The Williamson Art Gallery and Museum in Birkenhead is a wonderful launch venue for the New Light Prize Exhibition 2023/24. The standard and quality of artwork submitted was incredibly high.

“Once again the shortlist has proved the tremendous wealth of talent that exists in the North of England. The judges had a very difficult time making a decision and commented on the high standard of all the shortlisted artwork in the exhibition. Congratulations to such worthy winners. The exhibition is now open to the public at The Williamson before commencing the next leg of the tour in London at Bankside Gallery in February.

“We are excited to open for entries for our first ever Sculpture Prize in December 2023, sponsored by the Biscuit Foundation and hosted by the Biscuit Factory. For the first time, plinth, floor and suspended work will join the wall hung Prize Exhibition, adding a new experience for the visitor.” 

Frances Bell, winner of the New Light Valeria Sykes Prize says, “I feel so optimistic for the future of northern art in being part of this show. Such an ambitious exhibition, over so many wonderful venues, and months in which to tour the country, with such a rich crop of work to show alongside.

“There is great depth in the artistic community in the north and this show demonstrates so much of that. To have won the Valeria Sykes Award is beyond my wildest expectations, I’m really delighted. The painting was made at the tail end of the second lockdown, which so affected us all. My sitter is another Northumbrian and a great friend of mine. The atmosphere of that time comes through for me when I think about the painting, almost like a time capsule from the past. 

“It feels balancing that a painting which stems from being compelled by circumstances to remain in one locality through a hard moment in our recent history, should be shown in an exhibition celebrating that same area, and those who live and create art there.”

Lead image: The New Light Valeria Sykes Award winner, Frances Bell

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