The People’s Poll Winner – Johnian achieves Student Art Prize recognition!

By Lizzie English.

Lizzie’s artwork ‘Papa Gus’ won in both the People’s Poll and Highly Commended categories

When the world was so very different, back in October 2019, I attended the Student Art Prize Launch with many others and learned about the competition theme, ‘Diversity’. After contemplating the complex topic, I began painting my piece in January alongside my studies. 

My friend, Augustine Ihm, a Cranmer Hall student, was the perfect subject for my painting: he epitomises my experience of diversity in Durham, as a black, adopted, gay, religious, mature American student. I titled my acrylic painting ‘Papa Gus’: an affectionate nickname for Augustine, with Papa signifying his career as a vicar and him acting as a fatherly figure to students at St John’s College. 

I chose to place a black body at the centre of my artwork to unapologetically celebrate diversity and normalise art featuring black models as non-stereotyped characters. Despite being exposed to discrimination, Augustine spreads joy with his infectious laughter, bright smile and big personality, which I hoped to capture in my painting. 

I was thrilled to learn that my artwork had been shortlisted in March. Then in June I was truly astonished when I was selected for the final five of the competition. As my artwork was my first ever painting of a black person and my first work on canvas, I was incredibly surprised to be praised so highly by the judging panel! The online exhibition of my artwork and the other amazing shortlisted pieces can be viewed here:

In mid-July, the Student Art Prize awards evening took place via Zoom. Although my piece did not make the top three, I was awarded a cash prize for placing in the top five, kindly donated by John’s own Richard Roberts! 

Towards the end of the evening, I was delighted to discover that my piece won the most public votes of the shortlisted artworks. As the Popular Vote winner, I received an art shop gift voucher and my artwork has permanently become a piece within the University Art Collection, whereby it may be exhibited in university buildings, as well as national and international museums and galleries! 

I hope the exhibition of my painting will help others to embrace diversity and promote equality across Durham University, the art world and wider society. I am currently discussing the possibility of exhibiting my piece at St John’s College – so although Augustine is graduating, he may be found around our college for some time yet!

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