The Arts Society has announced Abigail McGourlay, 20 from Sheffield, as the winner of the national Isolation Artwork Competition for young artists during lockdown with her painting titled Brewing.
Abigail’s winning artwork alongside the other seven shortlisted artists can be viewed as part of a virtual art exhibition here.
Brewing is a self-portrait which shows Abigail drinking a cup of tea in the bath, two things she says she has found comforting during lockdown. She said of the experience of painting during lockdown: “I’ve struggled with the current situation both mentally and physically. The uncertainty of lockdown put me in quite a stressful mindset, and I found it, at first, difficult to feel motivated. But it is due to lockdown that I have rediscovered my love of painting. This piece captures a real moment of comfort, in both my two favourite things, a warm bubble bath and a hot cup of tea, and in myself”
Abigail’s winning painting was selected by public vote and is part of a virtual exhibition on The Arts Society’s digital platform, The Arts Society Connected (another of Abigail’s entries, Thalia Dorme, is seen top of page). Abigail was one of eight artists who had works shortlisted for the prize by a panel of judges including Rebecca Hossack, Charlie Waite, and Dan Evans. All eight artists’ works feature in the digital exhibition which runs until the end of July.
As winner of the prize, Abigail will have one of her artworks featured on The Arts Society’s 2021 Membership Card which is used by 90,000 members, and she also receives a £50 Cass Art Voucher.
Abigail was in the middle of finishing her 2nd year of studying Fine Art at The University of Leeds and was working as a swimming instructor when lockdown hit. She has been furloughed from her job and has been continuing her studies from home. She found the lockdown experience incredibly stressful and says “I decided to take back some control that the quarantine had denied me and set goals for myself, I began to learn French, work on my fitness and flexibility and most of all focus on my painting projects. Despite the struggle, I feel that I am much more optimistic about my future now, I know I want to make changes to my life and I have been proving to myself that these changes are achievable over the past few months.”
She goes on to say “I started sketching out this self-portrait at the beginning of my 1st year of University but as I started to develop and focus on my sculptural practice in university, many of my painting projects were put on the back burner. It is through this piece, and the time I’ve been given in lockdown, that I have rediscovered my love of the painting medium. The sense of utter consumption in a piece of work, like an almost hypnotic state, is how my dad used to describe me when I painted, and it is in this piece that I feel I have once again experienced that relationship with painting. This piece captures a real moment of comfort, in both my two favourite things, a warm bubble bath and a hot cup of tea and in myself, I am never usually the subject of my own work and this piece has allowed me to explore my own features in ways I have never felt comfortable to do before.”
Young artists entering the prize were asked to respond to the theme of isolation and have produced new works that reflect their experience of lockdown. Many of the works explore feelings of uncertainty, isolation, loneliness as well as nature, connection, and love, using subject matter ranging from self-portrait to shielding loved ones, and materials ranging from acrylic to biro and pencil.
Abigail said of her win: “I can’t stress enough how important these opportunities are for artists in the early stages of their career. I’ve been painting non-stop since Brewing and I can’t wait to get some new ideas underway very soon! It’s an amazing feeling to win, there were some really stunning pieces in the competition and just to be shortlisted was a real personal achievement. I’ve been overwhelmed with the support I’ve received and I want to thank everyone that voted for my work. Brewing is such a personal piece, that allowed me to really experiment with my style without restraint and it’s an absolute delight to have had such a positive response to it.
The Isolation Artwork Competition was set up by The Arts Society in support of young artists and students during lock down. With 90,000+ members, The Arts Society is a leading arts education charity with a global network of over 380 local Societies, which bring people together through a shared curiosity for the arts and help to support young artists in the early stages of their career. In April, The Arts Society launched The Arts Society Connected, a digital platform with the aim of help older members of the population stay connected, educated, entertained, and informed during lockdown.
Florian Schweizer, Chief Executive of The Arts Society: “The Arts Society is delighted to be able to offer a virtual exhibition and competition to support young artists during lockdown. We want to recreate and promote a sense of community, belonging and connection during a time of isolation and distancing. We believe the arts have the power to bring people together, and we will not let this virus stop communities from enjoying the arts with each other.”