This year the Marie Ellis OAM Prize for drawing attracted a record 174 entries, about 50 up on last year from across Australia. Winner [Carolyn McKenzie-Craig] and Runner Up [Matias Jakku] were under threat from a host of 23 other artists of determined passion and skill as the Judges Jeff Hopkins-Weise, Clare Collins [2013 Winner]Nic Plowman and Dr Sally Butler [Head of school of Art History, UQ] walked and talked and finally dragged the winners and themselves over the line.
Here are some of my words from the speech I gave after the winners were announced to a packed gallery last night[August 1] :
“Drawing. Mark making. We all do it from the moment we can hold a stick, wield a piece of chalk, scribble with a pencil or drag our finger in the mud. We make marks.
South African artist William Kentridge says we draw because we must. An artist friend recently told me that others say to him, “Simon go and draw for a while. You need to. And they are right” he said.
At Jugglers we are passionate about drawing as a core making process of the human person.
Our passion about about graffiti emerges from the belief that it is another mark making practice – whether the purist indecipherable calligraphic text or evolving image based representations. Jugglers has attempted to validate and legitimatise this drawing modality and medium since we kicked off in 1998. The Marie Ellis OAM drawing prize is really only another expression of our passion for this core human mark making practice. But mark making can be side tracked into a quest for perfection at the expense of evoking intuitive responses to life.
Kentridge helps us here: “It is in between the work that I thought I was doing that the real work is happening.”
The undisputed father of art abstraction [Kandinsky] makes the point in his water shed essay “Concerning the spiritual in art” that the artist must learn to work from the heart/soul otherwise he/she will only be a good illustrator with a market driven ouvre.
Every person’s work in this drawing competition is dictated by their skill, discipline, desire to win and the in-between things in their experience – including depression, ecstasy and spiritual epiphany. Whether artists have been able to articulate these deeper matters is what we want to encourage in this drawing prize and what we are looking for as an organisation and what the judges are looking for.
In his book “Beauty” Irish poet John O’Donohue quotes Nietzche in the chapter “To Create Beauty our of Woundedness”: “Beauty triumphs over the suffering inherent in life.”
O’Donohue; goes on: “When we decide to explore our lives through creative expression, it is often surprising to discover that the things that almost destroyed us are the very things that want to talk to us. It could be years later; time makes no difference in the inner sanctum of this encounter. The wound has left its imprint. And yet after all this time the dark providence of suffering wants to somehow illuminate our lives so that we can now discover the unseen gift that it bequeathed. The labour and discipline of creativity refines our blemished seeing, and gradually an unexpected gift comes to light. Because creativity demands patience, skill, expectation, desire and openness, it leads us to another place where we learn to see in the dark. Nothing is said directly in a creative work; it is obliquely suggested. Perhaps creative expression is a way of telling something indirectly that we could never tell out straight. Beauty is not all brightness. In the shadowlands of pain and despair we find slow, dark beauty.” *
It is worth considering that beauty is not necessarily pretty or glamorous but a reflection of pain that gives birth to a visual story drawn through the hands of a disciplined and skilled artist who, like Kentridge considers repeated creative attempts and failure as the step ladder crawl to some kind of place of embrace and artistic achievement that might not even be acknowledged in her lifetime.
*“Beauty-The Invisible Embrace” John O’Donohue Harper Perennial 2005