Artistic director of Hangar Bicocc
James Colmer, Guernsey
A graphic designer, illustrator and artist, James has been a judge for The Prize since 2018.
What themes have you noticed appear in the work of students and how have they evolved over the years?
I would say over the years the standard has been very high. Portraiture and a sense of identity have always had a strong presence. To me this makes sense for the stage of life these artists are in. I love the portraits where they are not just a direct copy but where the artists have injected emotion into the piece or somehow tells a story. Broadly speaking I’d say there has been an increase in landscapes in the last few competitions. I would love to see more abstract approaches in the future.
For the students out there wanting to impress the judges, what is it that you look for when assessing the works? And what does it take to get top marks?
For me I always look out for the skill level in draughtsmanship. I think this is key for most developing artists. From there, storytelling, artistic style and composition. Basically anything that adds depth to the piece.
Which particular works have stood out for you – and why?
In 2020, Isabella Lee’s Inverted Forest. I loved this piece. Although it felt modern and abstract there was an ancient Japanese artistic quality to it. I could stand there for ages and really immerse myself in the drawing. I was also impressed by Tim Neal’s Twinned Sister (2020). A very mature yet delicate portrait using a limited palette. I felt his style reflected Paul Gauguin and it left me wanting to see more of Tim’s work.
From 2019, I was drawn to James Le Tissier’s drawing of Lloyds Bank on the High Street. It just oozed character and I really liked the mark-making and confidence in the strokes despite the ‘higgled piggledy’ nature.
What advice would you give to aspiring young artists?
Immerse yourself in your artistic passion; drawing, sculpting, knitting… whatever you’re into. Find subject matters you love and combine the two. Have fun, experiment and don’t be afraid of making mistakes. Get engrossed into the whole process and your artistic path will show itself over time.