The Northern Arts Prize Review

Northern Arts Prize (published January 28, 2012 on

Celebration of Northern contemporary artists, the Northern Arts Prize  came to a head last week. The Leeds Art Gallery was home to four special exhibitions, each competing for a £16,500 cash prize. Of these artists were; Liadin Cooke, Leo Fitzmaurice, James Hugonin and Richard Rigg.

Liadin Cooke was born in Ireland and studied sculpture at the National College of Art and Design in Dublin. She went on to move to London in order to complete a Masters degree at Goldsmiths College. Her simple designs are a creative use of both colours and abstract shapes. Her combination of different materials, such as nettles, felt, wax, brass and clay gave an earthy yet delicate impression that evoked a sense of movement.

Also in the running was Richard Rigg. Born in Cumbria in 1980, Rigg received a BA (Hons) in Fine Art from Newcastle University. His manipulation of everyday objects is almost a parody of their original uses. Giggs asks us to look at them again from a different perspective. His transformation of the simple into the extraordinary is a playful  visual treat.

Leo Fitzmaurice was born in Shropshire and traveled to both Liverpool and Manchester to study. His work has been showcased at The New Art Gallery Walsall and Cube Manchester. The highlight of his exhibition was the quirky 60 image slideshow, ‘The Way Things Appear’. A wooden structure was created where the audience were invited in to find the art that is present in everyday images. The slideshow is a collection of mobile phone photos taken by Fitzmaurice over seven years and were intended as a way of note taking, but evolved into this provoking work of visual art.

James Hugonin’s colorful and vivid paintings are comprised of 55,000 different individual marks. The four works required deep concentration and discipline from the artist. Hugonin asks his audience to slow down and take time to appreciate things instead of indulging in a hedonistic sensibility. James Hugonin was born in 1950 and has lived in Northumberland since 1986. He graduated from the Chelsea School of Art with an MFA in Paintings.

After the exhibitions were seen by many curious eyes, the audience moved into the main hall for the announcement of the winner. The director of the prize, Pippa Hale hosted the evening and invited sponsors, Marketing Leeds and Leeds City Council to speak their piece. Both highly praised the event for promoting art and culture in the heart of the North and predicted the prize would act as a catalyst to inspire new events and younger artists to take shape.

Before the winner was announced it was revealed that the online public poll was snatched up by Richard Rigg. But it was Leo Fitzmaurice who was the judges clear favorite and won the cash prize and the recognition that comes with it.

A rather surprised Leo read out his speech from a crumple of paper, admitting ‘I wasn’t expecting this’. The charismatic winner thanked Kate Farrell who nominated him as well as everyone who helped contribute to his work, with a special mention for Sarah Brown who was ‘quietly influential’ and ‘brought [Leo’s] work to a higher level’.

The other three artists didn’t walk away empty handed as they each received £1,500. They seemed less than disheartened and an air of friendship could be felt between them. Liadin Cooke was overheard saying ‘he deserves to win’.

The Northern Arts Prize is moving to a Spring slot next year and will take place in March 2012.

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