The Kingston Whig Standard’s Review of The Salon Prize by Kamille Parkinson.
Upstairs at Studio 22 Open Gallery on Market Square is the third annual Salon Prize, on view until Feb. 24, and this year’s show is quite possibly the best one yet. Started three years ago by artist Cleah Bunting to raise funds for the Kingston School of Art, the contest has proven so popular that it has had to move to larger gallery spaces with each succeeding year. Open to all Canadian artists 18 years of age and older, the Salon Prize attracts artists working in all media and subject matter, and with four cash prizes to be won, the quality of the submitted entries is quite high.
Though this Salon Prize is a relatively new competition, it has a prestigious precedent in the Salon of the Academie Française. The Salon was an informal annual art exhibition put on by the Academie in the Salon d’Apollon in the Louvre since the 17th century. However, beginning in the 19th century the Salon achieved great importance as an arbiter of artistic taste. Exhibited works were selected by jury from hundreds of entries, and acceptance generally secured an artist’s reputation, with further prestige attached to medals awarded in all areas of the arts. A parallel juried exhibition in London, England, sponsored by the Royal Academy of Arts, bestowed similar benefits on artists selected for each annual show. By the end of the 19th century, however, both the Salon and the Academy show had become highly academic and conservative, rejecting work by innovative artists, and causing the annual exhibitions to become synonymous with staid, conventional art.
Fortunately there is no danger of being bored by conventionalism in the Salon Prize here in Kingston in the 21st century. This show fairly crackles with creative energy, and the exhibited work is varied in subject matter, media, and approach. There are paintings, prints, drawings, mixed-media, and sculptural works, and thought-provoking avant-garde entries hang beside interesting, traditional portraits, landscapes, and figural works. The one sculptural work in the exhibition, a small bronze, is captivating with its spiraling, connected figures.
The jury this year was composed of three respected Kingston artists: award-winning portrait artist Dan Hughes, portrait artist (and winner of the last Kingston Prize) Mike Bayne, and award-winning watercolourist Sally Milne. There are a number of portraits in the Salon Prize exhibition, and whether this reflects the proportion of the types of entries received or that Hughes and Bayne exerted powerful influence I can’t say, but each of the entries in this genre (one of which is the First Place winner) is remarkable for its portrayal of the human figure. One charming piece is highly reminiscent of Flemish portraiture, though with a decidedly modern feel.
Works in other genres show equal skill and talent, with vibrant and intense colours and themes. In addition to being an eclectic show, the Salon Prize is one that invites the viewer to contemplate both images and subject matter. The jury must have had a difficult time in selecting the finalist, and surely had some lively discussions in the process.