Sir Philip Pullman announces the Young Artist Competition prizewinners in the online OAS Open Exhibition 2020

Welcome from Lucy Stopford, Chairman of Oxford Art Society

‘I really am left with a great deal of hope for the future of the visual arts if it’s in the hands of young artists like these’ Philip Pullman (Oxford Art Society Young Artist Competition Judge 2020)

Harriet Eagle, Exhibitions Manager; Lucy Stopford, Chairman and Sir Philip Pullman holding the winning Young Artist Competition entry

Welcome to the Oxford Art Society’s first online exhibition. Browse our interactive catalogue to enjoy a spectacular selection of superb artwork from around the county.
This virtual exhibition is brought to you thanks to the tireless efforts and expertise of our Exhibitions Co-ordinator Harriet Eagle and Website Manager Lin Kerr, together with the Oxford Art Society, the artists who have submitted such fantastic work, and our guest selector Esther Lafferty from Oxford Artweeks. 

We are enormously grateful to Philip Pullman for judging our 2020 Young Artist Competition, generously sponsored this year by the Lucy Group and Art Collector Jeremy Mogford. Sir Philip’s profound and highly original observations when selecting the winners demonstrate the understanding of an artist expressed with the eloquence of one of our most acclaimed writers. A passionate supporter of the Arts, when involved in The Big Draw, Sir Philip wrote: ‘Drawing helps us see better’. His insights help us see better and it is my great pleasure and privilege to share them with you today:

‘I think there is a great variety of talent here, and I was immensely cheered to see the energy and imagination of these young artists. It wasn’t at all easy to make a choice.

In the end I think it was the formal values that swayed my decision. A picture, whether it’s a painting or a drawing or a print, is of course partly subject matter and partly form, but if it’s going to be looked at with pleasure for a long time to come, there must be something in the design – the shapes – the colours – the way the canvas or paper is filled that gives delight in itself. If our eye catches it across a room it should give us a little jolt of pleasure, no matter how familiar it’s become.

First Prize: Fergus Laidlaw – The rat race

The picture that struck me most vividly the first time I saw it, and continues to do so as I look at it again, is No. 300.A, The Rat Race. A satirical view of a serious subject, no doubt, but the energy and invention with which these spare black silhouettes fill the space is exhilarating. One small but telling point: the artist depicts the figures as moving to our left. If we flip it in our minds and have them moving right, the effect would be quite different. Psychologically, we interpret rightwards movement as being heroic, sympathetic, morally justified, likely to be successful, a righteous battle against overwhelming odds, that sort of thing. Movement to our left seems colder, less sympathetic, and so on. Quite possibly this has something to do with the way we read and write, and would not hold in literary cultures where the action of the eye moves in the opposite direction, but it seems true for us; and film directors and comic artists realised this quite early on in the development of their art forms. Anyway, this artist has got it right, and altogether I found it a highly impressive piece of work.

Second Prize: Lizzie Wheeler -The harbour

The picture I’d put in second place is 145.A, The Harbour. It could hardly be more different in tone and style: this is pure pleasure, with its gentle colours and simple shapes, but again it’s the inventiveness with which they’re placed and the lively energy with which they work against and with one another that makes it so delightful. I don’t think the eye would tire of this for a long time. As the impressionists and all their widely varying successors have shown us, there’s nothing wrong with pleasure. Dufy, too, was a great painter of harbours.

Third Prize: Sasha Palfreyman – A tribute to Venice

My third choice is different again, and bears out the great variety of tone and style here. It’s No. 275.A, A Tribute to Venice. Venice must be the most frequently depicted city in the history of art, but it’s not hard to see why. This is not a grand Canaletto or Guardi view of the splendours of sunlight on glittering water and glowing architecture, it’s a view from an unusual angle of one of the innumerable little canals and pathways behind the famous magnificence. An everyday scene – washing on a line, people passing by, open doorways, friends talking in an open window – but everything works so well: the tall narrow shape is just the kind of view we have of those narrow waterways, the asymmetric skew of the gondola is perfectly rendered. I liked it very much.

I think all the artists should be warmly congratulated, and so should you for making this exhibition possible. I really am left with a great deal of hope for the future of the visual arts if it’s in the hands of young artists like these.

With thanks and best wishes,


(Sir Philip Pullman)

Behind the scenes …

The Young Artist Competition Exhibition Display

Despite the limitations of the Coronavirus Pandemic, Harriet Eagle and Lucy Stopford created a mini display of the entries for the Young Artist Competition.

Here are a few photos showing some of the work that was entered.

Top left: Chase Marsden – The Menagerie
Bottom left: Bethany Aliwell – See the struggle
Right: Gabriella Bailey – The Supper
Left: Freya Doggett – Untitled
Top centre: Elizabeth Wasmuth – Student strike
Bottom centre: Fergus Laidlaw – The rat race
Right: Diana Avadanii – Fragile
Top: Laura Eagle – Undergrowth
Left: Lizzie Wheeler -The harbour
Right: Lucy Fricker – Vessels-nudes
Top: Elizabeth Wasmuth – Student strike
Bottom: Tahli Rickets – We are Home
Exhibitions manager Harriet Eagle adjusting the display

Our congratulations to the winners and thank you to all our entrants who took part in the 2020 Youth Artist Competition of the Oxford Art Society Open Exhibition; and also to those entrants who were able to delivery their work for the display.

And a special thank you to Sir Philip Pullman.

Lucy Stopford