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Marie Dyson Award 2021

The assessor for the Marie Dyson Award for 2021 was Fiona Talkington, presenter for BBC Radio 3.

Joint Winners

“There were clouds, bridges, tiny flowers, huge flowers, paper flowers, sculptures from the sea, and treasures of the sea, trees, loud paintings, shy paintings, a ‘Doc Marten’ where DM meant ‘Direct Message’, a story about Bansky, imaginary worlds, confused worlds, restful glades, shadowed forests. Sunlight streamed through the windows rejoicing in the blues, the yellows, and the oranges which called out “look at me”, and the shaded greens which quietly beckoned. Most of all the exhibition celebrated the humanity of each and every artist whose contribution seemed to matter so much after these often colourless months. As I walked around I was struck by the tremendous skill and imagination within every work; I was both inspired and humbled. The Reading Guild of Artists has shown, once again, why art is so important, not just for those who produce all this amazing work, but for the effect on us as visitors who spend time being with each work, stepping into these worlds and allowing them to speak to us. And let’s not forget the huge amount of work that goes into mounting such an exhibition, including the painstaking work of hanging.

It was a privilege to be asked to assess the works for the Marie Dyson Award. It was also extremely difficult: there were many contenders.

However… I chose joint winners.

Earth Dreaming by Nina O’Connell. Over the last few days, we have seen the devastation caused by extreme heat in America and the extreme flooding in Europe: the earth has been screaming. Nina’s batik work seemed to me to show an earth singing and dreaming of how things might be. Exuberant blues and oranges – are they pushing away the delicate hints of flame? There are huge swirling lines and the tiniest most intricate details, exquisite techniques, which tell of time spent in love and care for this planet of ours. ‘Earth Dreaming’ simply wouldn’t let me go.

Colette by Jenny Halstead. Colette, by some wily unseen power, summons me. I have no choice. She compels me to look at her, haughtily demanding that I admire her magnificent profile. Seated cross-legged she wears nothing but striped over-the-knee stockings, and a tumbling mane of hair topped by the picture’s dramatic splash of colour, the red textured turban. She is a dangerous companion who makes me curious. What is her story? Maybe I wouldn’t want to know. She will only obey the artist who has tamed her with her own most exquisite drawing; together they have created a chamber symphony of beguiling textures. I am under her spell.”

Highly Commended

“There are many who truly deserve to be in this category, but here are the five I chose on the day.

  • Convergence by Trish Roberts. Shapes, spaces, distance, and connection. Where are we? Where are we going?
  • Reading: Sunrise over the New Normal by Anthony Wilder. Inspiration during lockdowns as the Reading skyline awakens to another day on Zoom. This is a picture that speaks to us all.
  • The Wharf by Linda Saul. A tiny orange door beckons amidst irresistible textures.
  • The Hollow by Heather McAteer. Stop and listen to the sound of the wind playing these fragile lines.
  • Bilbao by Paul Woolley. What’s not to love about a pink brick wall?”

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