The Spectrum Art Prize: celebrating artists on the autistic spectrum

From hundreds of applicants, the seven finalists of the inaugural Spectrum Art Prize have been announced, along with the Prize’s exhibition location.

The finalists and exhibition for the first Spectrum Art Prize have been announced; this brilliant, national award has been created to celebrate the quality of artists who are on the autistic spectrum, who are also often underrepresented in the art world. Seven shortlisted artists have been chosen from open-submission by an accomplished panel of judges.

The judges range art-world experts such as Richard Billingham, Mark Wallinger and Sacha Craddock, to autism specialists including Dr. Simon Baron-Cohen and Mary Simpson. The Spectrum Art Prize is also an opportunity to exhibit the work of the seven shortlisted artists, and show audiences who may be unfamiliar with autism some of the primary states associated with the condition.

Yap, Our Colours, 2015. Acrylic and pen.

Each of the seven artists is incredibly unique, with the shortlisted group demonstrating a huge diversity in their art practices, as well as in their chosen form of media – there is everything from animation to sculpture, as well as painting and performance art. Although all the finalists identify as being on the autistic spectrum, the experiences they have drawn for their artwork are also very varied.

Some of the work more directly involves the artist’s social experiences of autism, whilst other works take inspiration from nature or from the individual’s relationship to their creative process. The finalists also range in age and how well established they are within the art work; from the ages of 20–51, some artists are well-established, but others are only beginning their careers, with some being self-taught while others have received formal art-school training.

Dawnne McGeachy, It sounds lonely, 2017. Oil, ink, encaustic on canvas.

The first finalist, Brian Barry (YAP), views is art as mode of an expression, and an extension of his autism. Working with acrylic and pen, he depicts figures using lines, geometric forms and shapes, having been inspired by his interest in mathematics and philosophy. Another finalist, Charlotte Amelia Poe, is a self-taught artist from Suffolk who works with video and film.

For the Spectrum Art Prize, Poe submitted a film called How To Be Autistic, which presents viewers with the rarely-seen point of view of someone living with autism, challenging the idea that it is something that needs to be ‘fixed’. Meanwhile, finalist Dawnne McGeachy has studied the science of waves, using her knowledge to create precise oil and ink paintings to show the power and might of the sea.

Jessica Chowdhury, Ass Burgers Whats That

A performance artist hailing from London, Emma Selwyn creates her own autobiographical work, using humour to explore the issues surrounding gender, sexuality and autism. For the Spectrum Art Prize, she submitted a recording of her performance My Hands and Feet are Wiggling, which is a playful, self-reflective piece that includes song and physical theatre.

Another London-based finalist is Jessica Chowdhury, who is a sculptor, animator and filmmaker. She uses her mediums to create expressive, comical sculptures and stop motion animations, which deal with her autism and anxiety over social situations. Fellow finalist Nnena Kalu uses a range of everyday materials to create large-scale sculptural pieces.

Nnena Kalu with large sculptural forms 

Carrying a level of repetition, Kalu makes patterns within her artwork but has a clear process – and every time her work is exhibited, the work evolves as she adds a further layer of material to it. Lastly, finalist Peter Matthews’s submitted artwork was made using rust and pen on paper whilst he was submerged in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Cornwall. The outdoors is where Matthews feels safest, and is abstract drawings a responsive stream of consciousness.

Though autism may impart a very individual way of seeing the world to those who have the condition, it can also lead to those people facing multiple challenges – from a ‘loss of voice’ to social isolation, because they have a different way of viewing their surroundings. The Spectrum Art Prize aims to address these issues with a range of support for the artists, including showcasing their work in exhibition at The Saatchi Gallery from 1st to the 2nd of May.

Peter Matthews, 12 Hours In and With the Atlantic Ocean. 2016. Rust and pen on paper.

As well as this, the Prize will offer professional mentoring to all the finalists to help them achieve their individual ambitions and artistic career goals. All seven finalists will receive a cash prize to help them continue to work as artists; the 1st prize, which will be announced at the Saatchi Gallery on the 1st of May, is £10,000, with 6 further awards being given with prizes of £1,000 each.

The Spectrum Art Prize exhibition takes place from the 1st – 2nd May 2018 at the Saatchi Gallery, London. For more information, please visit the Prize website here.

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