Bronwen Findlay wins Helgaard Steyn Award
by Carol Brown
Bronwen Findlay, who hails from Durban and has recently settled in Jo'burg, is this year's winner of the prestigious but little-known Helgaard Steyn Award. The award was instigated by Jan Steyn in honour of his father Helgaard Steyn and is awarded once a year in a different discipline - artist/painter, sculptor, South African literature, music composition. It is not a competition and the nominees are entered by a person who heads a museum or art gallery. Another proviso is that the work has to be accessible to the public. This final requisite is an interesting one and promotes public collections. Findlay was nominated by head of the Gertrude Posel Gallery at Wits, Julia Charlton who wrote in Findlay's Artbio:
'Vigorous assertion of paint, autobiography, and self-reflexivity as her primary mode characterise Bronwen Findlay's work. Sentimentality and decoration are selected strategies of engagement, but their use is always edgy and ironic, overlaid by her insistence on the metaphoric power and resonance of the ordinary. Findlay's ongoing preoccupation with mortality is expressed in her probing of change and decay in an exuberant affirmation of life. Selecting subjects and methods often pejoratively associated with "the female realm", she insists upon their power while overturning established hierarchical notions of what constitutes value.'
It was a complete surprise for the artist to get a 'phone call out of the blue informing her that she had won R150 000. The prize money varies every year depending on investment values of the Trust, so this was a good one! Former winners include Christo Coetzee, Pippa Skotnes, Jan Van der Merwe and Robert Hodgins.
The prize was given for her work All About Everything which was shown last year at the KZNSA in her solo show 'Every Picture Tells a Story'. Her description of the painting is as follows:
'All About Everything consists of three panels - the central piece includes paint and things - sometimes paint takes over and the things are buried in the paint - at other times the objects are quite visible. It was a painting I began soon after I bought my house in JHB (finally deciding that I really had left Durban and did live in JHB). The painting happened over the period of 2005 - it hung on my kitchen wall and I would add things and remove things as I unpacked my old life to begin my new one. My mother had recently died and some of the boxes I unpacked were hers - included in the painting are her knitting needles, her hearing aid, a little Vermeer painting I had on my wall as a child as well as some of my current interests like the three cats label from the ishweshwe cloth. Textiles are often a starting point for my recent work.'
Those familiar with Findlay's work will appreciate her unique vision and her luscious use of the paint medium which she has made her own. She has recently built a new studio in her house and this prize is bound to see her using this space to create new works.