Derwent Art Prize: An Interview with the Winners

On 22nd April, Derwent announced the winners of the 5th instalment of the Derwent Art Prize. The prizewinning artists represent a diverse range of styles and processes; however all the works are unified in their refreshing approaches to drawing.  From the immediacy of the coloured pencil drawings of Xuetong Wang, full of movement and life, to the soft and subtle atmospheric work of Chungxiao Fu.

The four prizewinning artists include Katie Sollohub for Blue Chamber (First Prize), Xuetong Wang for Dog Walker (Young Artist First Prize), Maree Hughes for her drawing 15 (Second Prize) and finally Chungxiao Fu for Autumn Language No. 1 (Young Artist 2nd Prize). The esteemed judges, Alice Rawsthorn, Charles Avery and Victoria Pomery had very difficult choices to make given the high quality and quantity of artworks submitted for the competition. Art critic Alice Rawsthorn remarked “the quality of entries was so high that we were spoilt for choice”.

Competitions such as the Derwent Art Prize give artists a new platform to showcase their drawings and focus on the beauty and immediacy of the medium. The stories behind their approach and their artworks follow. They illuminate a diverse collection of works which give testament to the importance of fine art drawing in contemporary art practice today.

Second Prize winner in the Young Artist category, Chungxiao Fu doesn’t speak a lot of English – but he told us he feels deeply honoured to receive his award. He is a young painter from China who loves art, drawing and Western painting. His winning work Autumn Language No 1, from a series of three charcoal drawings, is a sketch of a woodland landscape created in the fall of 2019.  According to the judges, this charcoal landscape showcases “a very good, directional mark-making and a timeless subject” as well as “a lovely feeling of light”. Here is what our other 3 winners, Katie Sollohub and Maree Hughes, from the UK, and Xuetong Wang, from the USA, had to say…

Could you tell us about your overall experience participating in the Derwent Art Prize?

Katie Sollohub: When I found out I was the first prize winner I simply couldn’t believe it! I saw it first on social media, was shocked and then excited. I have never received a prize like this, I have never been selected as the winner. The one drawing that the judges chose, out of thousands… it is just such an amazing feeling.

I was especially pleased to hear what the judges felt about the work, echoing my own feelings – that the process of drawing is integral to its construction. Yes, that is it – drawing is integral to all my work, the act of being in a space, looking, feeling, thinking, with eyes, hand and charcoal.

Xuetong Wang: When I saw this competition, I had some coloured pencil drawings in my hand, I thought it was a chance for me and I just wanted to try. When I was told I was shortlisted and accepted to the show, I was so happy. I just never thought I could win the prize because there are so many talented artists. I was super excited, this prize encouraged me to draw more and share more of my works with the world. It’s really a big deal for me and my career.

Maree Hughes: I was delighted to be shortlisted, being a prize winner, especially during a time like this, was both uplifting and exciting.  I appreciate it…a lot! For me the Derwent Art Prize is a rare platform to keep drawing in the public eye on an international level.

Why did you feel it was important to enter the Derwent Art Prize and where did you hear about the competition?

Katie Sollohub: I decided to enter the Derwent Art Prize on the suggestion of my friend and colleague Emily Ball, who also got shortlisted this year. I had never entered it before, but was pleased to find something specifically celebrating drawing, as this is my first love. I was pleased that we were encouraged to enter several pieces, and that the additional cost of doing so was minimal. This enabled me to pick works I felt supported each other and showed my drawings at their best.

Xuetong Wang: I am going to finish my graduate program this year from Maryland Institute College of Art. I entered the competition to enrich my resume and for my future freelance career. The Derwent Art Prize limits entries to drawing media. This encouraged me to return to traditional media and rediscover its beauty. It really encouraged me to draw more.

 What’s the story behind your winning artwork?

Katie Sollohub: The Blue Bedchamber is part of a series of drawings I did in situ, whilst visiting Strawberry Hill House in Teddington, England. I was invited to come and make work there for my own research and had free access whenever I wanted.

My drawings usually take half a day of continuous work, in situ, working on the floor so my whole body is involved. They are made up of layers, changing, feeling the image build up as I work. I let an ambiguity emerge on the paper, making intuitive choices, feeling what works, what to keep, what to rub away. The rubbing away is as much a part of the drawing as the charcoal.

The room itself was the bedroom of Horace Walpole, a “man of letters’ who built Strawberry Hill House as a Gothic tale, a space to be walked though and experienced visually, physically, each space designed intentionally to be different from the last. The Blue Bedchamber has been restored to the colour of the original walls, a brilliant blue, that fills the room with light. The windows slide in and out of the wall cavities so when they are open the outside seems to flood into the room. Behind the door stood a tailor’s dummy, headless, wearing a period dress. I didn’t know whether to include her or not, but as she appeared, and disappeared, I enjoyed the human, if ghostlike, presence she gave to the room. The wind, and feel of spring, blew through the open windows, making the bed curtains billow. The light cast strong shadows on the wooden floor, and made the interior space through the open bedroom door seem dark and mysterious in contrast. I remember the details, the pattern of the wall hanging behind the bed, the crisp edges exploring the line where walls and ceiling meet, and, hidden under the chair, a modern day plug socket.

Katie Sollohub, Strawberry Hill

Maree Hughes: Scribbling daily and drawing the figure from life for over 35 years has helped to keep my drawing alive. 15 is a portrait sketch of my youngest daughter Anna on her iPhone. She was an avid reader when she was younger. Now, books are replaced by the phone however the engagement is similar. Capturing her trance-like state and rigid body was the aim. The only part of her to move during this pose was her thumb along the screen.

At present, when drawing the figure, I prefer to use black ink washes to help speed things up. Finer details in graphite, charcoal or pastel pencils are added and any “mistakes” in proportion or posture are corrected. I like a drawing to look like a drawing, mistakes included, it is all part of the process. To see the journey and the story the marks tell is as important as the finished work. Pastel pencils are my favourite. I love the ghost marks that are left after rubbing them out. It adds interest.

Maree Hughes

Xuetong Wang:  The winning artwork is called Dog Walker, which belongs to a series of Californian sketches following a trip there with my friends in May 2019. It was a sunny afternoon and I saw a man with lots of dogs. I presumed that they were all his dogs until my friend told me that it was probably his job. This type of job is quite unusual where I come from and it impressed me hugely. I used coloured pencils to create the drawing, I wanted to communicate the idea of modern life and urban jobs to others.

What are your thoughts on the other works shortlisted and other prizewinning works?

Maree Hughes: I loved all the winners’ drawings, congratulations to everyone! Katie Sollohub’s drawing caught my eye straight away, so I am delighted to see it win first prize. I kept going back to look at it: it is beautiful in both subject matter and execution, I love the flow of it. I’ve really enjoyed seeing everyone’s work and had picked a few favourites in the people’s choice award (impossible to pick just one) including Katie Sollohub’s and both Xuetong Wang’s drawings. I loved the simplicity of Shopper by Susie Hamilton and Faye Bridgewaters Studying Murmations is such a lovely original idea. I’m really looking forward to seeing the exhibition.

Katie Sollohub: I already had a good look at the other entries, all of which I thought made for a very strong selection. Standing out for me was in fact the second prize winner, Maree Hughes, 15. Such a familiar look, captured so evocatively, with expressive bold marks. I also loved the immediacy of the coloured pencil drawings by Xuetong Wang, full of movement and life. An image strikingly different to the city streets as we know them now. All of these are in contrast to the fourth choice, the subtle, soft, atmospheric Autumn Landscape of Chungxiao Fu, which I would love to see in real life. Other work that stood out were those by Emily Ball, Angela Edwards, Faye Bridgewater, Sophie Bartlett, Russel Heron, Alexandra Blum and the amazing coloured lollipops by Helen Glover.

You can view all the winning artworks as well as the other 66 pieces shortlisted for the Derwent Art Prize 2020 in a virtual exhibition. All artworks are for sale, so if one of them catches your fancy, you can support the artist by purchasing their work.

Voting is now closed for the People’s Choice Awards. The two artists with the most votes will be revealed on 12 May 2020 and win a share of the £1,000 prize money.

Congratulations to our 4 winners, and good luck to all artists for the People’s Choice Awards!