Winning the UKNA Award: a springboard for artistic success

We caught up with the winners and runners-up from the 2019 and 2021 Robert Walters Group UK New Artist of the Year Awards to chat about their many achievements so far, plans for the future, and how they felt about being involved in the Awards.

Conor Rogers, Winner 2019

Time seems to have flown past, who'd have thought that the year after I won the prize the world would shut down for the pandemic. Though I remained optimistic and ambitious with my work and projects. My highlights include being accepted into the Freelands Residency program which was essential in assisting the development of my practice. In 2021 I had a successful debut solo show 'Manor Boy' in my hometown of Sheffield and for the first time exhibited poetry, a new artistic territory of mine.  Most recently I have opened an exhibition of socially engaged portraiture 'Creative Connections' at the Millennium Gallery, Sheffield. This project was in partnership with the National Portrait Gallery, Museum Sheffield and my old school. It was my first commission by a major institution to lead a project and deliver an exhibition both as artist and curator. (the show is on now until 2nd October).

Winning the Award had a huge impact on me and my art practice, though I think my work was already heading towards new territories at the time I applied. Winning the prize justified the risks I was starting to take with my practice. It may sound like a cliché but just making the application is an achievement, because you have had the courage to do it. Receiving this prize only further strengthened my belief in pursuing art as a career. 

I have worked with the UKNA on many varying projects, they have always been willing to continue to offer advice, attend your shows, and just be there for you when you need it. They genuinely care about their relationship with artists and provide so many platforms for the community to engage with their projects. I am so honoured to be a part of their story and owe so much gratitude to the memories we have all made. I couldn't recommend working with UKNA enough and entering the prize is a must for any emerging artists. 

Camilla Hanney, runner-up, 2019

Since receiving the UK New Artist runner-up award in 2019, my work has been exhibited by a diverse range of galleries in the UK including No. 20 Arts, Muse Gallery, Dora House, Cromwell Place, Backloft Gallery, Swiss Church, Sarabande Foundation and The Rosenfeld Gallery. 

I was selected as one of the 2020 Gilbert Bayes Sculpture Award winners and was granted the 2020 Irish Visual Arts Bursary Award. I am the recipient of the 2022 Newbury Trust Craft Excellence Award in conjunction with Cockpit Arts. I recently received the 2022 Artist initiated project award in tandem with the Irish Arts Council, which granted me a funded solo show at Pallas Project Gallery earlier this year. 

I feel receiving the runner-up award had a huge impact on my work. The award provided me with the financial means to purchase a kiln for my studio, enabling me to continue exercising my interest in ceramics. Since acquiring a kiln, clay has become an integral medium in my practice. The award not only provided me with the monetary means to support my practice, it also provided me with confidence and a real sense of support in my art making. I feel at this very early, precarious stage in my career support holds immeasurable worth.

I would absolutely recommend others to enter the competition. Having my work exhibited in a prestigious gallery such as Saatchi was a huge milestone in my creative career. Alongside exposure, the competition really offers a springboard to artists who are hoping to take the next step in their career.  

Anne von Freyberg, winner 2021

Receiving the first prize was not only a huge recognition and a confidence boost but it also gave validation for textiles as a contemporary art form.

With the cash prize I was able to invest more time and money into my work which gave me the opportunity to make bigger pieces. Through the event and the display at Saatchi Gallery I made contact with curators which resulted in me having more shows in London. And having a Dutch background the Award helped me feel part of the UK art scene. 

Since I won the award I had a lot of exhibitions in London and one in The Netherlands. I presented new and older work together with painter Rinke Nijburg at Gallery 0-68, NL under the title ‘Figure This’. I was part of a group show at L’etrangere in London and in May I won the Tsivrikos Shake Art Award. They recently exhibited three of my textile pieces in the group show ‘Salon’ on New Bond Street. At the UKNA event I met art collector and curator Brad Keats who asked me to participate in the group show ‘Go Figure’ at Daniel Raphael Gallery in London.  Some great news is that my work is selected for the 17th Tapestry Triennial in the Centralne Muzeum in Lodz, Poland. Showing from October to April, it is the oldest and one of the most prestigious presentations of textile art.

I would encourage every emerging artist working in any media with a resolved art practice to enter the competition. I felt absolutely supported by UKNA, as they always answered all my questions and helped me get in contact with an art accountant. The prize winning event and exhibiting at Saatchi Gallery is a great opportunity to show your work to art professionals and grow your network. The cash prize is a bonus. I really can’t think of any reasons not to apply. 

Jarvis Brookfield, Winner of the People’s Choice Award

The experience of having my work exhibited at Saatchi was fantastic. Seeing it in that amazing space and being able to experience how engaged people were with the work, and how my works resonated, I felt I needed to create larger paintings! I feel tremendously grateful to have been able to contribute and be a part of the event. 

I’m currently in the final year of my Fine Art MA at De Montfort university. UKNA’s Leicester City Takeover in February was such an amazing thing to be a part of. I sincerely loved that event, both being able to exhibit some older paintings which hadn’t been seen alongside new ones and being exposed to so many brilliantly creative people expressing themselves through a variety of mediums. One of my paintings was recently chosen to be a part of the NAE Open 22 (New Art Exchange, Nottingham). I was also contacted by the charity The World Reimagined and commissioned to paint a globe to be exhibited in Leicester as part of their nationwide art education project to transform how we understand the transatlantic trade of enslaved Africans, and its impact on all of us. In the studio, I’m currently working on my most ambitious and largest series of paintings yet and exploring ways to exhibit them in 2023.

The whole team at UKNA, means what they say. Their ethos of placing artists at the centre of their organisation is clearly expressed through their variety of brilliant projects, communications, and resources. UKNA makes you feel that you’re a part of something bigger in a meaningful way. I trust and support them and yes, I have, do, and would again encourage fellow artists to enter and get involved. 

Cationa Robertson, runner-up, 2021

It was absolutely incredible to win second prize, it was totally unexpected, and I was humbled to be a part of it! It’s been a whirlwind of back-to-back exhibitions since then and my network has since exploded. After the Awards I was selected for the Gilbert Bayes Award at the Royal Society of Sculptors. Sometimes it can be a bit daunting to be a sculptor and think about an ‘artist career’ and what it means to sell your work. The support of the UKNA and the Royal Society of Sculptors has given me a real confidence booster. 

The financial support of the award has enabled me to keep my studio at SET in Woolwich, continue to make work on a large scale, and invest in new pigments and materials that I had wanted to introduce for a while. This has helped me to develop a new body of work where I’ve been able to take the time to make new smaller works. I've had a phenomenal response to these new smaller sculptures, some of which hang on the wall, and I have sold quite a lot which I have never done before.

In May I was also invited to take part in ‘Lost in a Just in Time Supply Chain’ curated by Josh C Wright and Hypha Studios, at the former Peacocks in Catford. I’ve also been able to take the time to start adapting my work for the outdoors, as I have aspirations of creating public artworks and pushing the scale of my work.

This summer I’ve been working on an outdoor commission during a residency at the Merz Barn Project in Elterwater, Lake District.  The exhibition is part of the 75th Anniversary of the Merz Barn, in Elterwater, the last studio of the German artist Kurt Schwitters. The exhibition is on show until the end of November. 

Would you recommend applying for the Award? Yes, I say anything goes, be big and bold and show your best work, whatever is unique to you. It was an event I will remember for the rest of my life!