Justin Hammond Explores The Top Artists For 2015, Ten Years Of The Catlin Prize, And Second-Album-Syndrome

Justin Hammond

Justin Hammond is an independent curator, publisher, and art dealer, The Catlin Art Prize is an annual showcase for outstanding new artists in the UK, which has been described by The Independent as the Turner Prize for recent graduates. The prize was devised by Hammond in 2007, the independent curator then went on to compile The Catlin Guide, a yearly book that presents a collection of recent graduate and postgraduate artists from UK art schools, which is now recognised as an essential reference for collectors of contemporary art. In 2010 Hammond published ‘An Unspoken Arrangement’ to coincide with Alex Ball’s début solo exhibition, and co-curated Mike Ballard’s controversial ‘Whose Coat is that Jacket You’re Wearing?’, held in a disused tailor’s shop during Frieze. The independent curator and publisher continues to promote emerging artists, both in the UK, and internationally.

Justin was kind enough to talk to Artlyst about ten years of The Catlin Prize, his commitment to the selected artists, and the independent curator gives you exclusive top tips on which artists to watch out for in 2015, to be read here, only on Artlyst.

A: “OK Justin, Artlyst is putting you on the spot, if you had to choose, say, four artists, or more if you wish, that you think it would be wise to keep an eye on in 2015, who would they be?”

JH: “That’s like choosing between your children! … which actually I can do, it’s easier to choose between my children than it is to choose between the artists, and that’s all right, you can publish that, as they already know that. I tell them that. Ok well I think artist Zhu Tian has got the potential to do something very good, she has a very diverse practice at the moment, some things are a bit more successful than others, but she has some very good ideas. I think she could do something of interest this year. This is horrible, it’s very difficult to choose.

I really like Fanny Wickström, she was at a major art school, she was at Glasgow, she’d never been to an art fair before, she’d never thought about selling her work before, which I thought was quite surprising considering where she came from. So she had a very kind of irreverent attitude and an anti-commercial attitude which I really liked, so I’ll be interested to see how her career pans out. This is still really horrible”

A: “Artlyst is not letting you off the hook Justin.”

JH: “Oliver Hickmet – who was at City and Guilds – he made brand new work for the stand at the London Art Fair this year, and I was really excited about the reaction it got. He’s a BA so he’s a little bit younger than some of the MA guys, you know, in their late twenties, and it feels like he’s really fresh, just out of art school, with loads of ideas, maybe, you know, maybe too many ideas I think at the moment? in a few years time I think he’ll really focus. But the work that he made for us, for the stand resulted in a lot of gallerists and curators spending a lot of time with us because of his work, and also a collector bought it for a domestic setting, if you remember that they were like silk drapes, and I didn’t see it as an immediately commercial work. So I think Oliver is a kind of outside tip, if you know what I mean.

Dominic Hawgood is really good to work with, he showed at the South Kiosk at the London Art Fair, and we had a piece on our stand, I think that was a really interesting project from Dominic, really well executed and some very good ideas. Then there’s Felicity Hammond – you’ve probably seen the image of this work of hers everywhere [‘Restore To Factory Settings’ 2014] again she showed at the South Kiosk; it’s a brilliant image. I think that the real challenge for her now is to push on and to continue to make work as impressive as this.

The thing is with these guys and their degree shows, they’ve had forever to come up with ‘that piece’, all there lives maybe? and then suddenly it’s like second album syndrome! where suddenly everyone’s going ‘make something good!’ and ‘shit!’ you know they’ve got a couple of weeks! or a couple of months to come up with something brand new! The good artists, like Dominic Hawgood and Zhu Tian, they have so much going on that that’s not a problem for them, but some people peak at their degree shows. It’s their one hit. They spent their whole life working on it, and it’s the best work they’re ever going to make, and if I do really feel that about an artist, I won’t include them in the book, and it’s happened before where they’ll blow my mind at the degree show ‘this is brilliant!?’ then I’ll do a studio visit, or maybe not even do a studio visit as they don’t have a studio yet, and I ask ‘so what are you going to do now?’ and they respond ‘oh you know, I’ve got a job somewhere else, I’ve got a job in fashion…’ they’ve peaked at their degree shows, and they’re not going any further, and that does happen, so if it does then they’re not right for the book, because the idea is to follow these guys over the next decade or more.”

A: “Is this why it’s a very important reason for the prize to be set a year after graduation?”

JH: “Yes definitely, that’s the idea with the prize actually – that it’s all brand new work – I wouldn’t say it’s site-specific, but we do go down to the project space, and invariably they do end up making quite large-scale works. They look at the size of the walls and realise that those small paintings they were going to make are going to get swallowed up! So it has to illustrate a progression for them. But it’s only a year on from art school so I’m not asking for a major change, but I’m asking for a jump. Some artists can fall into the habit – and I continue with this analogy – of continuing to replay their big hit time and time again, so for the prize we’re looking for them to be experimental really.”

A: “Are you ever going to open your own gallery?”

JH: “The last thing London needs is another gallery, right? – and I always think this – I mean, the turnover of galleries in London is incredible, I think there are more galleries now than there’s ever been! They pop up and disappear at speed, but I’m always looking for that perfect space, I’m not sure whether it actually exists, I pretty much want to be in North London. But the idea of turning over ten shows a year isn’t something that really excites me. So maybe I’m looking for this perfect space, and only doing these four shows a year. Financially I don’t think that’s going to work out, although that shouldn’t be a consideration.”

A: ” So there are forty artists in The Catlin Guide, what sort of percentage do you think go on to successful careers as artists?”

JH: “I think that’s a very good question, and that’s being asked more now, because when we did the very first show, I think I attempted to select artists to shape in order to effect the dynamic of the art world over the next decade, and beyond, and now we’re getting to that ten year point. Because people would always ask ‘so who’s going to be big next year?’ but I don’t want to put that sort of pressure on the artists, that’s not what it’s all about, so instead, to kind of judge them after ten years, and that ten years is coming up now, so for the first time I’m going back through them, and going ‘that was a good one!, and that one… but I wonder what they’re up to?’, but I think we have a really good hit rate. Just the fact that so many of them are still full-time artists working in major cities is kind of a success in itself in a way, as that’s not an easy thing to be able to sustain over ten years. I suppose peoples definition of success differs dramatically. I don’t know if we’ll ever have that group of artists becoming household names like we had at the beginning of the nineties, so in terms of that kind of success I don’t know if that’s ever going to happen again full stop. But I’m really proud of them, all the one’s that continue to do really well.”

A:”So are there any plans for the tenth anniversary of the Catlin Prize?”

JH: “I think at five years we integrated some of the artist that had shown previously, so I think it would make sense to acknowledge it with some kind of retrospective, whether that takes the shape of an exhibition, or the shape of another publication, all the artists are asking me, definitely! The guys from four or five years ago are asking me not to forget them, so yes I think we should do something like that?”

Read the first part of Artlyst’s interview with Justin Hammond here

The Catlin Art Prize finalists will be revealed on 3 March 2015 with the exhibition to follow on 7 May 2015

Words: Justin Hammond with Paul Black Photo: PC Robinson © Artlyst 2014 photo Artlyst all rights reserved


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