BLOG Susie Wild

NWR Issue 111

This must be the place I never wanted to leave…

Last week the Hastings-based artist Tom Banks was announced as the winner of the £1000 Beep Wales International Painting Prize 2016 with his oil on canvas ‘MetaVita II’. Judge Jonathan Watkins (Director of Ikon Gallery, Birmingham) praised Bank’s winning piece that quietly compelled him to return to it again and again: ‘I was looking for work that demonstrated virtuosity. It’s a mysterious yet confident painting that calls to you across the exhibition space in an understated way; the smart, quiet one in the room that deserved more attention.’ This attention will come, as the prize additionally includes a solo exhibition with elysiumgallery in Swansea in 2017.

At the opening ceremony, Watkins also commended the work of Mircea Teleaga, Catrin Llwyd. Daniel Crawshaw, Michelle Conway and Philip Cheater: ‘The quality of the entrants was very high. It was not hard for me to come up with the shortlist but it was harder to single one out to win.’

Curated by Jonathan Powell, (the Director of elysiumgallery), the exhibition for the third Beep Wales International Contemporary Painting Prize 2016 is now on display at Swansea College of Art until 3 September 2016. Whittled down from 500 entries, the show features 49 national and international contemporary painters and will later tour to Undegun, The Project, Wrexham in October and, in a slimmed down form, to Arcade Cardiff this December. The People’s Choice Prize, which all visitors to the first two exhibitions have a chance to vote in, will be announced at the end of the Wrexham show.

Powell, also an acclaimed painter, was prompted to set up the Beep Painting Prize and exhibition after feeling that painting was being underrepresented as an art form in Wales. Talking about his choice for the theme of the exhibition, Powell says, ‘Post Brexit, the urge to change the title of this exhibition to “This must be the place I ALWAYS wanted to leave” was very tempting. The events of the past weeks have made me question what kind of place Wales really is becoming as the UK takes a giant backwards step out of the global community and into the unknown. The realisation that my home country wasn’t the all welcoming, friendly hospitable place I had been viewing through rose-tinted, nostalgic eyes all these years has left me in a semi-state of stunned bereavement. For me it has changed the tone of the theme for this year’s Beep Painting Prize. The “must” in the title is less assertive and the feeling is uncertain, this must be the place I never want to leave… isn’t it?’

‘The theme originally grew out of a series of group discussions at the elysiumgallery High Street Studios project space. Each month an artist takes up residence in the space to test new approaches to their practices and, at the end of their stay, a discussion takes place between the studio artists. These discussions led to more, laying the foundations for the questions the Beep Painting Prize and associated exhibition seeks to address. What does one feel when painting? Are the worlds and scenarios you create formed from a historical context? Abstract imaginings of a possible future? Or painting as a state of mind; a meditation to remove oneself from the world?’

Despite the current upheaval and uncertainty in the world, and in the arts, Powell remains positive about the future, ‘One of the major elements of positivity is that Wales does have a thriving arts community which is at its best when working together. It is the partnerships formed between elysiumgallery, Swansea College of Art, Mission Gallery, Undegun, and Arcade Cardiff in the absence of funding, coupled with the sharing of resources that has made this year’s Beep Painting Prize possible. It is one of the few artist-led, financially transparent and FREE to enter competitions in the UK today. I’d like to thank all of the organisations, artists and helpers who have contributed their skills and never-ending enthusiasm. It is this that will see us through the current gloom and come out fighting with a raised middle finger through the other side.’

Tom Banks, who was in France when it was announced that he had won the Beep Painting Prize 2016, deliberately hadn’t had any internet connection for the whole of his trip to avoid the recent depressing onslaught of news. Also commended in the Beep Painting Prize 2014, on discovering he’d won this year’s prize Banks said: ‘It feels great, I think I am still processing the fact. I had seen images of the show being installed and the work looked fantastic so I had no expectations of winning the prize. I was genuinely pleased just to be selected for this year’s show.’

Of the winning piece ‘MetaVita II’, Banks said: ‘I think I actually started painting it in January/February, but I suppose the original seed of the idea came from seeing the [1950s British sci-fi horror] film Quatermass 2 as a child, and in particular a scene where a man climbs out of a large spherical building covered in black goo, which freaked me out at the time and has been lurking ever since. There is also ‘Meta Vita I’, but I feel no.II is the most successful, and hopefully there will be more in this series to follow. Thanks to Beep, I'm going to be buying some some desperately-needed equipment, and look forward to working with Jonathan and elysiumgallery for next year’s show.’

Does Banks think that painting is a neglected art form in our digital world? ‘Painting will always go through periods of being unfashionable. But I think painting has started on its upswing at the moment. Whether this will be sustained, who knows.’

So what appeals to him about the practise of painting? ‘Painting is just what I do. Sometimes it feels like I'm still learning how to use paint. I can't say I enjoy painting a lot of the time. There are moments of elation, but more often it is a battle, and at times quite daunting process. But I am wedded to it and will be persevering with it for a while to come.’

This must be the place I never wanted to leave… is open until 3 September at Swansea College of Art, 7 October - 5 November at Undegun, This Project, Wrexham and from 16 November - 23 December at ARCADECARDIFF. For more information on the prize and their associated programme of painting exhibitions, events and artist residency visit their website:

elysiumgallery celebrate their 10th birthday next year and the Beep Painting Prize will return in 2018.


previous blog: The Button Project, curated by Jo Dahn
next blog: City of the Unexpected


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