Schools’ Art Competition Judge’s Comments 2009

Schools’ Art Competition

Judge’s Comments

Image of John Philip Murray, Competition Judge

To adjudicate a schools’ art competition is almost invariably a pleasure, tinged with some measure of regret, that such untrammelled talents can’t all be winners.

Saying that, it is wonderful that so much beautiful work will be exhibited around Kanturk during the Arts Festival.  It is fitting that these paintings and drawings will be such a visible manifestation of the force of creativity that exists in the locality. They are equally an indicator of potential for the future.

It is important to recognise the importance of the process of getting work made and prepared for presentation, by the deadline imposed by the Festival.

Coming from outside the locality, I had no preconceptions of who I would expect ‘to be good at art’. This allowed me to choose works entirely on their own merits.

As the age range of the competition is so large, it covers many significant developmental areas. Sometimes this means that a student in one age category may find themselves competing with someone in an older category who, for example, may already have discovered how to get the form of a person in a sophisticated way. This does not mean that one is better, or that the younger student won’t achieve this descriptive power soon, but it is a point worth noting.

The first quality that comes across from the entries is freshness.  Whether drawing with pencil in black and white, or using dense paint or pastel, the young painters have a directness that is often missing from work by professionals.  Picasso’s aim, reportedly, was to try to paint like a child.

From the perspective of a judge, it is remarkably easy to see particular approaches to the brief that was given.  For example, one can spot those who have been driven by some personal motive, whether to represent a pet, a car, or thoughts of home.

Students who sought out a particular ‘place’ in town, brought their own vision to bear by direct observation. In some instances students set challenges for themselves which they might not even have been immediately aware of.  For example, it is a daunting task to fill a large area of, say, sky, using just a coloured pencil. While the use of paint must necessarily bring its own mess to their surroundings, and in western civilisation the brush is an unfamiliar means to accomplish an assured mark, these are situations to be overcome, rather than avoided.  The results by those who accepted the challenge of paint, spoke for themselves.

In judging the many entries, I had a brief to select a winner from each of seven categories and to commend those who achieved a particular standard. I also added a few very highly commended where it was difficult to select a category winner from the best three or four entries in each section.

However, choosing the overall winner was easy! On several levels, Clare Murphy’s winning painting – ‘Springtime’ – was an outstanding piece of work:

  • The composition leads our eye straight to the smiling young face which is situated almost exactly in the centre of the picture
  • The use of a diagonal presentation, from bottom left to top right, adds to the drama of the composition
  • The contrast between the black-and-white calf and the warm colour of the face, the straw and the figure is extremely effective
  • The scene emerges from the dark area at the top of the picture in to the warm brightness below
  • The handling of the oil pastel is confident

To give some indication of the kind of elements that are important to me in looking at a painting or drawing, I have singled out the overall winner for description, but I will leave it to the viewers to make their judgements on the other pieces.  It will become apparent to anyone who gives time to the pictures that the standard of all the entries is, indeed, very high.

For their prize, the overall winner and the six other category winners work will be professionally framed and exhibited in the Sólás Gallery on Percival Street.  It will be an exciting exhibition.

All of the entries will be displayed in business windows around Kanturk for the duration of the festival.  The entries that have been highly commended will be marked to that effect.

These students set a standard to which the entrants in subsequent years can aspire.

John Philip Murray


February 2009.