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Aspiring Art

Liam Gerrard

Aspiring Art

With the 2019 Aspiring Art Prize almost upon us and entries closing in just 10 days I thought it would be timely to take a ‘peak’ inside the mind of one of this year’s judges, Francis McWhannell.

Entries for the 2019 awards close on the 7th December 2018. With the top prize being $10,000.00 and a nation-wide call for artists, it is well worth the effort.



Art Aspiring Art. Written by Aimee Ralfini for Art Ache.

Picture this if you will. You’re an artist, broke, living in Auckland, where no-one has much spare cash these days, unless of course, you were doing business in the ’80s – ref Gloss  (a manifesto of sorts for some of Auckland’s more established Art dealerships). In the blur of your daily practice – which covers both the artwork you create, along with the coping mechanisms required to continue onwards through the grinding impoverished conditions in which you exist (trust-fund artists not included), you see a flicker of hope, offered from a far off land, with beautiful Mountains, clean water and air so fresh it’s been rumoured one breath can undo years of social smoking… W-A-N-A-K-A.

The source of hope is Wanaka, more specifically The Aspiring Art Prize, which offers artists nationwide an opportunity to compete for its top prize of $10,000.00 – that’s no slap on the face.

Having been down there judging earlier this year, I can confidently say, it’s a difficult competition to judge! The two main internal battles I found myself grappling with were; what I was looking for intellectually, versus the localised energy which emanates outward from every Southland contender’s work. An energy which encapsulated me on the drive through the landscape from Queenstown to Wanaka and which remained with me throughout my stay (be warned, Wanaka has this effect on a lot of people). So it’s no wonder that when I asked Francis WcWhannell what he was looking out for in this year’s entries, his first point was “That’s a surprisingly tricky question to answer!” Artists take note: ENTRY FORM

What are you looking out for in this year’s entries?

Francis: On the one hand, I’m tempted to say that I’ll be looking out for works that do something surprising, something unexpected. On the other hand, I don’t want to give the impression that I’m hung up on newness. In fact, I tend to gravitate towards works that show a real awareness of artistic tradition. What matters most to me is something rather tricky to pin down: sincerity. If a work exudes a sense of the artist’s commitment to expressing a thought or vision or sentiment, it’s likely to attract me. Beyond that, the ‘winning works’ will be those that are still playing on my mind hours after encountering them – for one reason or another.

What catches your eye at the moment art-wise?

Francis: This question is comparatively easy to answer! Fibre- or textile-based art. I’m mad keen on this sort of work at present, not least because there are a number of artists who are producing the most fantastic pieces. Think Emma Fitts, Maureen Lander, and Karen Rubado. I just can’t get enough.

What most inspires you about this part of New Zealand?

Francis: I have no direct experience of the Aspiring/Wanaka area. I have spent a small amount of time in nearby Queenstown, and I have friends in Wanaka, but this will be my first time visiting. I am expecting to be impressed by the landscape, but I’m also excited to experience the cultural environment and to learn a bit about the local history.

Francis McWannell is one of two Judges selected for the 2019 Aspiring Arts Prize. McWannell will be judging alongside Felicity Milburn – Curator at Christchurch Art Gallery.

Francis McWannell is a freelance writer and curator. He has contributed to a variety of arts and culture magazines and websites, including Art News New ZealandHOMECIRCUIT Artist Film and Video AotearoaRunway ConversationsThe Spinoff and Pantograph Punch.

Full Judges Notes from 2018 can be viewed here: AAP-Judges-statement-AR-2018