Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Absa L'Atelier: Enter!


I try to avoid being in the company of artists soon after the winner of an art award is announced. Unless they happen to be a recipient or previous recipient of an award they tend speak in expletives, break out in an angry rash or beat their chests with empty beer bottles. The female ones that is; I won't detail what their male counterparts do.  It's not just professional jealousy that drives this post-award rage or even the twisted nature of the art-game, but a kind of deep-seated desire to be acknowledged to assuage that persistent doubt that their work is irrelevant, self-indulgent.  Call it a Vincent-Van-Gogh complex if you will.

I'm acutely aware of this phenomenon, because many artists seem to believe that my work entails temporarily relieving them of this condition.  A feature story, a review, particularly a short-lived text in a newspaper, is, however, just a quick-fix, a band aid - of the sort that goes soggy in the shower.

Nothing quite announces that you have arrived in this peculiar industry more than an award, even if in a previous fit of anger you questioned its credibility. As I say, no award is more credible than the one you have just earned.

Unfortunately, there aren't a lot of local ones left to enter. Spier Contemporary seems to have vanished, the Brett Kebble Art award went belly up soon before that of its patron and the Sasol Wax Award has also been scrapped.

What's left? The Standard Bank Award, the MTN New Contemporaries and the Absa L'Atelier. You can't actually enter the first two; you have to wait for their esteemed judges to notice what you have been doing and you have to snag at least one international showing or residency to look bankable.

The Absa L'Atelier award, which has been running since 1986, when Penny Siopis won, is different. You don't have to wait around to be selected; you have to enter to win.  This means everyone gets a chance - hence many of the winners are complete unknowns.  Certainly, I had not heard of Elrie Joubert, last year's winner.

What is also particularly attractive about this award is that the prize is engineered to develop your talent. Among landing a cash prize the winning artist bags a chance to study at the Cité Internationale Des Arts in Paris. The merit award winners get to go on residencies at either the Ampersand Foundation in New York or at the Sylt Foundation in Germany. There is also a fourth prize, sponsored by the French Embassy and Alliance Francaise.

The competition is held annually in partnership with SANAVA (South African National Association for the Visual Arts) and the closing date for entries for this year is fast approaching: 8 March is the deadline date. So, if you're under 35 and hanker for applause, a future swimming in a sea of red dots and confirmation that your obsession is meaningful to others then you should get your entry in pronto.

To find out more about submitting works of art for the competition visit www.absalatelier.co.za


*This blog post was sponsored by the Jupiter Drawing Room.