Charcoal artwork Street light (the place where your brother was born) by Wellington artist Connah Podmore has won first prize in the Parking Drawing Prize competition 2023.
A drawing of a blank wall has taken out the top prize in a controversial art competition – earning the artist $25,000.
The annual Parkin Drawing Prize, known for pushing the boundaries on what constitutes a “drawing”, has made headlines in the past after a jumbled-up pile of carpet draped over string took out first place in 2017.
This year’s winning piece, titled Street light (the room where your brother was born), was announced this evening at the New Zealand Academy of Fine Arts.
Wellington artist Connah Podmore created the drawing with charcoal on lining paper, and was the winner out of 500 entrants nationally and 86 finalists.
“This is the back wall of our old living room. It is an ordinary room, where ordinary things happened but significant to me as this is where we spent our days when my children were young. When they were babies, I used to stare at the changing shadows on this wall as I nursed them to sleep each night,” Podmore said.
“It’s about taking something that’s private and individual and intimate and putting it forward as significant as kind of a public work.”
Podmore said she also had a “dreamy” home birth in that room with her youngest son, 3-year-old Renny, as the sunlight streamed in from outside.
Not expecting the birth to go so quickly, Podmore’s partner had put a loaf of bread in the oven right beforehand, she said. “We had Renny and then the bread came out of the oven and we all had bread,” she laughed.
The room, and therefore the wall, was a “special place” for Podmore, who became teary as she spoke about how meaningful it was to her to create a work that represented that moment in her life. It is also where she raised her now-6-year-old son, Lewis.
“It’s nice to make something about my family, about my home … it’s nice to think about the support the house gave us and the support our family gives to each other.
“We moved house and I’m kind of mourning it a little bit.”
The piece was initially commissioned for the RM Gallery in Auckland, she said.
At the “heart of it”, the work was about how “ordinary things aren’t ordinary”.
Judge and director of the Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tamaki, Kirsten Lacey said the first time she walked through the gallery to look at the finalist artworks she walked right past Podmore’s work without seeing it.
“It’s a blank wall mounted on a blank wall,” she said.
Lacey said the piece evoked viewers’ own domestic spaces “where we come to intimately know of our own blank walls – walls which are never really blank but inscribed with changing shadows, patterns marks and potholes of life”.
“I loved this work for the attention put to the drawing of blankness, so the viewer can meditate on what fills their walls. I felt it to be a metaphor for the challenge of meditating with an empty mind, allowing the day’s thoughts and images to pass by as we seek refuge from constant information and content.”
Show curator Cameron Drawbridge said many of the works in this year’s competition were about lost potential and how hard it was to be a woman. Finalist works explored ideas of motherhood, sexual assault, miscarriage, and the pain in trying to chase beauty.
The competition, sponsored by philanthropist Chris Parkin, in association with the New Zealand Academy of Fine Arts, promotes excellence and innovation in drawing in all its forms.
The Parkin Drawing Prize exhibition will run from August 2 until September 11 at the academy building on Wellington’s waterfront.
Melissa Nightingale is a Wellington-based reporter who covers crime, justice and news in the capital. She joined the Herald in 2016 and has worked as a journalist for 10 years.