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ABC to the Griffin Art Prize 2013: abstracts, books and champagne…

Rogue’s Arts Editor, Jessica Moffatt-Owen, got invited down to the Griffin Gallery to see the announcement of the winner of the Griffin Art Prize. What is this? Well read on to find out more…


I strolled on down to the Griffin Gallery (Latimer Road is the nearest tube) for the first time, in order to quaff champagne, nibble on canapés and, of course, have a look at some really innovative art pieces, all shortlisted for the Griffin Art Prize. What is the Griffin Art Prize? Emerging artists apply, are shortlisted, and compete to win a six month placement in a studio space, with access to amazing art materials, provided by the likes of Winsor & Newton, Liquitex and Conté à Paris. Most notably, the winner receives a six month solo exhibition, which has the potential to launch a career. Alzbeta Jaresova, winner of the Griffin Art Prize 2012, subsequently exhibited at The Future Can Wait for Frieze Week 2013. Plus, the runners up win £250 worth of art materials. Overall, a fabulous opportunity – only available to those who graduated five or less years ago.

Walking around the exhibit, I was blown away by the calibre of the talent. However, I quickly identified two of my favourites: Nicole Wong, and the duo, Luke George and Elizabeth Rose.

Nicole Wong drew my attention first of all with The Coldest Black and White Landscape.

Nicole Wong's The Coldest Black and White Landscape

As an English student, the collection of books and their titles forming an interpretive landscape was very appealing. Nicole explains this piece as, “The seascape. But the coldest black and white is because the book titles that I used are all related to sea, waves and an island. The top one is about ice and the wild animals, and the last one is about the deep sea… so it’s about the coldest white, and the coldest black.” I found the relationship between words and the concept of landscape extremely clever.

However, conceptually, some of Nicole’s work went a little bit over my head – if I’m perfectly honest. I like to think that I can appreciate obscure sculptures, even though fine art and abstracts tend to be my personal favourite (call me boring if you like). The concept of Lost Horizon stems from the fact that, “Landscape was the word that always appeared in galleries by paintings… and I think that it’s so predictable to see a landscape painting. Lost Horizon is about the fantasy place you can never reach, because I think that the most beautiful place is actually in your mind.” Wow. Very deep and conceptual. A bit too much for me, personally.

Nicole Wong's Lost Horizon

She did provide some advice for any of you reading this who might be interested in pursuing the Griffin Prize after your graduation: “When you have a chance, you need to work. You need to show you’re working and will be working in the future.”
On the other hand, we have Gate, by Luke George and Elizabeth Rose. This was instantly my favourite piece in the room. A strikingly large canvas, with a gorgeous muted palette of white and pink, heavily laden with textures. It caught my eye from wherever I stood in the room. I was lucky enough to have an opportunity to interview the couple.

Luke George and Elizabeth Rose, Gate

Jessica: You’re the only duo… What’s the difference between working solo and collaborating?

Luke: Well our process, our journey more or less, started midway through the end of our last year at university, and I think it’s a very natural process how it came about. One of us was in the studio and asked the other to make a mark quite randomly on a piece of paper. And it lasted until the early hours of the morning. I got a really rich sense of joy, excitement and gratitude. From my point of view, I thought, how far can we take this? Previously to that I could never have conceived working with someone else. And I think it was such a natural process… it was like chance.

Elizabeth: Yeah and chance is so important. We’re out of each other’s control, which is what makes it so interesting. That’s a really important part of our process; the fact that it’s out of our control and that we’re letting the materials speak is very important. I can’t imagine not working together now, it’s so natural. And people say, “Oh, don’t you have disagreements?” Doesn’t he want to do something, and you want to do the other? That’s true, we do, but then we come out into richer understandings for that, because we work through it to come to better things.

J: Do you have a leader? Is one of you the leader? The bossy one?

E: It’s so important for us to be equal. It’s something that we’re really strict on.

L: I think, going back to that question, if you come to a disagreement or something like that, it does feel that there is a third person in it. That third person is kind of inward… kind of a decision that hasn’t yet been discovered, and you’ve got to push the discovery. And it’s like that third factor, that chance – I don’t know how to explain it – that mediating thing between us, that we’re always kind of searching for. And in that sense, it’s working towards a shared vision which is very important.

E: Also, to not have an actual image of what we want to make. If we had an idea of how to make it then why would we bother making it? It’s far more interesting to us to happen upon something. And that’s what happened with Gate, that was a complete accident in so many ways.

J: Was there a base concept for it?

L: Our inspiration starts with our journeys, that’s such a crucial, integral part of our working process. We spend all our time with each other, we go on journeys, we read literature, we read poetry, we read visual stimulus, stimulus we can’t even find…

E: A language to express the inexpressible. I guess writers write and painters paint. It’s our way of reflecting the world. That we are finding out between us. And it’s lovely, we get to paint… It’s just a meeting isn’t it? A meeting of us. It’s quite romantic in that sense.

J: And what got you here to Griffin Prize?

E: We applied straight out of art school, and we got shortlisted – it was wonderful. And we were really interested in the Griffin anyway, because of ColArt and Liquitex – wonderful brands, and they’ve got the studio next to where they develop all the materials. We work with traditional pigments amongst other things, Luke comes from a wonderful heritage in terms of that, and so we would love to work with them to develop new material.

J: Do you have any personal favourites from around the gallery that aren’t your own?

L: Absolutely, I love the toilet roll.

E: Yeah! Rae Hicks is fantastic, really interesting pieces.

J: Any advice for any students who are looking to get shortlisted?

L: Listen, I think we take our process to the the raw foundation. It’s the respect and the patience which working with anybody has to have, and the whole idea of conversation and dialogue and talking, listening to the moment, and just picking up on the available stimulus which is there. If you feel the call to do it then just… grab it!

J: I suppose that is applicable across all the artistic mediums, not just to art?

E: And don’t be cynical, you know, there’s this amazing article in the NY Times about the age of irony. It says how we’re entering the age of irony, and it’s a bit dangerous because it’s easy to become something which isn’t actually what you mean to be. Mean what you’re saying and really have conviction. If people you know don’t like it, they don’t like it.

L: Follow your vision.

Funnily enough, these two ended up winning the Griffin Art Prize. One might think I even predicted it. Despite winning and being the critics’ favourite, all three artists I interviewed (Nicole Wang, Luke George and Elizabeth Rose) shared one favourite piece: the toilet roll sculpture, Titanium White 1400g, by Yuhwa Son.

Yuhwa Son, Titanium White 1400g


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