I first met my fellow judges for the Chaiya Art Awards in November 2019. 700+ entries had been received for this, the second iteration of the UK’s largest awards exploring spirituality through the visual arts. The theme with which those artists had been working was ‘God is’.
What had that phrase meant to those entering this inclusive competition for artists, whatever their faith or views on God? From the work we viewed, artists had explored the theme in terms of encouragement to look beyond, discerning what cannot be seen and grasping what cannot be described. They had explored liminal spaces where life’s pain and pleasure dissolve, where questions and answers fade into shadow, where the indefinable lies, a treasure waiting to be found.
Our input had begun through an online submissions platform on which we had responded to an initial longlist drawn from the 700+ entries. Working with our criteria of theme interpretation, originality and technique plus emotional impact, a shortlist of potential award winners drawn from our responses online was reviewed.
We gathered as judges at The Glassworks, an award-winning multidisciplinary art studio that acts as a gallery, exhibition venue and centre of excellence for commissioned and original art. Hosted there by fellow judge Marcus Lyon, a conceptual landscape and portraiture artist whose works on urban expansion, identity and mass migration are held in many private and public collections, we were also joined by Clive Davies, a freelance journalist for more than twenty-five years mainly writing on the arts for The Times and Sunday Times, Deborah Tompsett, a Sussex-based artist who was the winner of the Chaiya Art Awards in 2018, and Katrina Moss, Chair of the Judging Panel and founder of the Chaiya Art Awards with extensive experience in marketing and the Arts and a passion for creativity. Also with us was Ann Clifford, Chaiya Trustee and author of the book that accompanies the exhibition.
We thoroughly enjoyed our time together and ended up with a fabulous potential shortlist. We all really appreciated the opportunity to hear the other’s thoughts and feelings about the artworks we discussed. The discussion we shared was illuminating and changed opinions on several pieces as we progressed.
Then it all stopped. The Winners Exhibition, with 50 works selected from the original 700, was planned for Easter 2020 at the Oxo Gallery but the first UK lockdown in response to the Covid-19 pandemic necessarily led to the cancellation of those plans. While this was desperately disappointing, especially for the artists and organisers, being the culmination of two year’s work, all understood that public health and safety was paramount.
Katrina and her team reimagined and reshaped their plans as a result. Two online exhibitions were organised offering artists already engaged with the Awards the opportunity to show their work. Firstly, they showcased the 2018 Winners exhibition on the theme ‘Where is God in our 21st Century World?’ to enable a new audience to experience the artworks. This 3D virtual exhibition was available for three months in 2020 and was visited over 2,400 times. Then, they invited previously shortlisted artists to submit their creative responses to the Coronavirus Pandemic by responding to the impacts of Covid 19, around the world, on families, society, health care and beliefs. The result was a second 3D virtual online exhibition that was open from June – Sept 2020 and visited over 3,200 times. It featured 60 artworks including painting, drawing, video, photography, sculpture, glass and mixed media, which combined to make a reflective and thought-provoking exhibition. As with the Awards exhibitions, the artworks were for sale, raising money for charities; in this case, the Coronavirus Appeal – Run by the National Emergencies Trust and Shout.
Finally, this is an invitation to revive and refresh our senses. ‘God is …’ a mystery explored through canvas and paper, photographs and video, others cloth and stitch; 3D metalwork and pottery; bronze and stone sculpture; glass and pipework; a movement sensitive robot alongside an interactive sign with sonic sensors.
The panel of judges will announce the winner of the top prize of £10,000 along with other prizes, and individual prizes of £500 each. Visitors will have their say, in voting for the public prize of £1,000 from the artwork on display during the exhibition.
Katrina Moss says she feels tremendously privileged to present the artwork included as the ‘upended society in which we now live raises many internal questions’ and ‘has thrown us into unknown territory within ourselves.’ As a result, it is even more important today ‘to give voice to diverse creative expressions on a subject key to many – their spirituality.’
The varied artwork in this exhibition represents a hand-picked selection of artists sharing their imagination, their creative talent and their unique response to the theme of ‘God is …’ Exhibition curator Lesley Sutton summarises their work: ‘As viewers, our eyes meet the emotions of the artists, their colour palettes revealing personal narratives. Some speak of pain and suffering, questioning where God is when days are dark and He seems to have abandoned us. Others have used brightly coloured canvases of cerulean blue, gilded squares or intricately carved sculptures to invite us to delight in the beauty of the world we call home. Yet others have chosen to remind us of our responsibility as caretakers of the earth and sea and all its inhabitants.’
As judges we have been looking for originality and technical excellence in the artist’s submissions. The call for work asked artists to be authentic and daring. The exhibition will show that these artists have not disappointed us. The Winners Exhibition is a showcase of innovative and exciting artists expressing their creativity in response to spirituality and offering the opportunity to view beautiful and inspiring art that is often difficult to find on display elsewhere.
For these fifty artists, God is… a mystery explored by their bold works which take us to the threshold of understanding. Artists are alert to glimpses of unvarnished reality which can become moments of revelation. In the moments or people they notice, the realities to which they pay attention, we see the face of God.
Chaiya Art Awards 2021, Winners Exhibition, Affordable Art Fair, Fri 14 May – Sun 23 April 2021, 11am – 6pm every day (till 4pm on last day), Gallery@OXO, Oxo Tower Wharf, Bargehouse Street, South Bank, London, SE1 9PH
Top Photo: Trilology’ by Karl Newman (Detail)
The exhibition will also be online simultaneously until 31 July 2021.