This year, Turner Contemporary is thrilled to announce that BBC radio presenter Gemma Cairney and illustrator Lizzy Stewart will be two of the judges on the panel for this year’s Portfolio competition. The multi-award winning broadcaster, published author and activist Gemma Cairney’s third series of The Leisure Society is currently in production for BBC 6 Music. Lizzy Stewart is an illustrator and author who many will know by her loved book ‘There’s a Tiger in the Garden’.
They will join Rob Parker, Creative Director of Go Vicinity Creative agency and David Lilford, Director of Lilford Gallery, both located in Canterbury. We will also be joined by Kerry Jordan Daus, Interim Head of School of Childhood and Education Sciences and Head of Partnerships (Regional, National and International) at Canterbury Christ Church University. As Turner Contemporary continues to champion child leadership, we also plan to invite some local primary and secondary school students to this year’s judging panel to mix things up a little.
We are really excited about how the panel will decide on the winning entries and we expect this year’s theme of ‘Art Rebels’ to throw up some very thought provoking discussions and perhaps even the odd disagreement! As community groups are able to submit entries for the first time in the competitions history, we are also eager to find out what this new category will bring to the competition and shape it going forward.
The shortlisting will take place at the gallery in April and an awards evening will take place at Augustine House, Canterbury Christ Church on the 1st May 2019, when the winners will be announced.
Meet the Judges
We recently caught up with Portfolio judge Lizzie Stewart to ask her a few questions about her practice and whether or not she considers herself to be an art rebel.
Can you tell us a little about yourself and your practice?
I’m an illustrator and author who lives and works in South London. I grew up in Devon and then studied illustration at Edinburgh College of Art followed by a masters at Central St Martins. Now I mostly write and illustrate picture books but I also make comics and zines, paintings and prints. I like making pictures in as many different ways as possible and am always looking for new materials to try out.
What is important to you and how do you show this in your work?
I love stories in all forms but especially stories told with pictures. When I draw I’m always trying to convey as much meaning as possible, giving the person looking at my pictures plenty to look at! When I was small I loved when picture books had lots of hidden details and small things to unearth within the images so I always ensure that stuff happens in my books too! I want my readers to enjoy visiting my stories again and again!
It is also important to me to tell stories about as many different children as possible (although so far all my characters have been girls!). Children’s books are really slowly becoming more diverse (really, really slowly) and as an illustrator it is very much my job to ensure my pictures reflect modern society as much as possible. Hopefully this will mean we see books as diverse as our school playgrounds with children of all sizes, ethnicities and abilities taking part in exciting adventures!
What does it mean to be an art rebel and how would you define one?
I think the act of making art itself is always something of a rebellion! It is so much easier to keep your ideas to yourself, to not put them to the test by trying to make them visual that, I think, the act of trying to make them real becomes really brave! I think an art rebel is anyone who feels brave enough to put their thoughts and feelings into creative endeavours, anyone who tries out some new way of expressing themselves or ventures a song or a story or a painting when they could just stay quiet.
Do you think that Art Rebels have always existed?
Absolutely! Women who painted or wrote or danced when society wanted them to stay quiet, people in difficult or dangerous situations who make art even when it might cost them their lives! Art is such an important way of explaining what the world is like and how it feels to us. An art rebel uses art to make their voice heard!
Do you think you can make a difference by making something? Do you think that art be a catalyst for change?
Absolutely! Art is often the first way that an idea can be explored by society. Films and photography and music have shown us worlds that were unfamiliar, made them understandable and relatable, from there society grows to address imbalance and indifference. Not all art has to be world altering but the fact of its existence changes the world for the better!
Do you have a favourite art rebel?
Tove Jansson, the artist and writer who created the Moomins. She was, not only, a maker of picture books, but a bold political cartoonist, a brilliant novelist and writer and a painter. She lived in Finland and spent her summers on an tiny island with her partner, Tuulikki Pietila, where she fished and swam and lived an entirely creatively driven life. I love her bold, strange outlook on life and her stubborn commitment to art at a time when the whole world was consumed with war. Her writing for children never spoke down to them, instead she created a world where children could explore what life felt like, all its weirdness and happy bits and sad bits and scary bits.
Do you think illustrators and children’s books authors have taken risks and challenged the status Quo?
Of course! Maurice Sendak, who wrote and illustrated ‘Where the Wild Things are’ said, of writing for children, ‘Tell them what you want’. Which is a fairly revolutionary statement for a children’s writer. He didn’t want to make books that told children that everything would be magical and easy, he wanted to be truthful and weird and uncomfortable and as a result his books are brilliant!
Children’s books are so instrumental in how a child grows up. A book can shape your viewpoint profoundly. Whilst a book might not bring down a government it can instill empathy and understanding in a generation who will, one day, be the adults who change the world