19 January 2010

Siemens Awards open doors

Past Siemens Award Winners: (left to right) Adam Lee, Elvyrra Jon and Nicholas Bastin

Past Siemens Award Winners: (left to right) Adam Lee, Elvyrra Jon and Nicholas Bastin.

Winning a Siemens RMIT Fine Art Award has meant a great deal to the recipients over the past nine years.

The winners describe the honour as having reaffirmed their sense of themselves as artists – especially important when they were emerging into their careers at the crucial stage of making the transition from being students to building a reputation and body of work.

The opportunities afforded by scholarship money, which enabled them to travel and broaden their cultural horizons, has also had a significant impact on their careers.

One of the first winners, artist Dr Elvyrra Jon, was a PhD Fine Art – Painting student when she took out a Siemens postgraduate art award in 2001. She used the money to go to Korea for research to finish her thesis.

"I was honoured to be one of the first Siemens Acquisition Prize winners and it gave me confidence and encouraged me to be a professional artist," Dr Jon said.

“I think it requires great vision for corporate companies such as Siemens to see the value in investing in something as esoteric as art for the public. The awards support the students financially and give them confidence."

"Being exhibited in RMIT Gallery made me proud to be a professional artist and being known in the public."

Dr Jon describes her work as abstract - she works on oil on canvas and mixed medium on paper. She said that the best thing about being an artist was the ability to express her ideas creatively.

"I am inspired by the transition that I have made myself between an eastern and western culture," she said.

"In fact I chose to study at RMIT because of the diversity in art and culture."

Since winning a 2004 Siemens Fine Art Scholarship, jeweller Nicholas Bastin’s career has gone from strength to strength.

He has exhibited in the prestigious Cicely & Colin Rigg Contemporary Design Award at the National Gallery of Victoria.

He was also part of the important touring exhibition: Beyond Metal: Contemporary Australian Jewellery and Holloware, which toured in 2007 to Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Mumbai, New Delhi and Chennai.

“When I received the award in 2004 – which was fantastic – I went to Japan with the prize money to do some further research. I had been to Japan previously on a different grant, so I was able to build on what I'd done on the first trip,” he said.

“I work in gold and silver smithing – I received the award in final year of my Master of Arts – and I was looking at how I would incorporate the idea of plastics and resins with gold and silver smithing techniques and processes.

“Since then I have really moved to the plastic as a material and a concept. I am now working a lot more in polyurethane, resins and my casting techniques have improved.

“Ultimately what I am working on now are plasticised artefacts – a system of components that look like they have been extracted from an alternate world.

“There is a strangeness in the objects I make, but a familiarity as well – they merge the historic and the future together.”

Mr Bastin said that when the 2004 Siemens Awards were announced, he was in Sydney at the time: “A friend rang me up – I was shocked and surprised I was rapt.”

“It is a big boost to a career to win – it gives you the opportunity to explore your work through travel and supply you with funds to do that,” he said.

“Also there is the prestige of the award as well. It is a great honour and boost to your career.

“I think the arts business partnership is fantastic – I am so pleased Siemens started it and kept it going – it is such an important award for post graduates and undergraduates.

For Adam Lee, a Siemens postgraduate scholarship awarded to him in 2004 while he was completing his Masters degree brought him a most precious thing: time.

“Siemens didn’t specify what the money had to be spent on so I was able to use the time to paint as well as travel,” he said

“It enabled me to keep on making my work and to put on an exhibition.”

Mr Lee said that the painting which won the award was a picture of a Big Issue vendor, which generated a lot of publicity for the cause.

“I was also pleased that the work represented the stories of these people and it felt really great for it to be publicly recognised," Mr Lee said.

He used part of the prize money for travel and did a 5 or 6 week tour of New York and Chicago - the main art centres in the US - then Paris, London and Germany.

"I travelled to look at art. It was the first time I had been overseas and people had told me for years how important it was to do as an artist, but it wasn't even until years later that it sunk in just how important it was," he said.

Mr Lee said that the travel to galleries overseas had given him a sense of the history of art and how thinking has developed and the world we live in has changed.

"I can see that we are a bit insular in Australia, and this award gave me a chance to see the perspective of other cultures," he said.

Mr Lee said that as an artist, viewing work up close was vital. A painter he admired – Leon Gloub, based in Chicago, painted vast images of the Vietnam War – up to 7 m long.

"To stand in front of that work and see it – it was amazing. You just can't get that same effect from a reproduction," he said.

"I am still working on my painting and that's what I spend most of my time doing. The time since winning the award has been great, as I have been working as an artist."

The 2009 Siemens-RMIT Fine Art Scholarship Awards are on at RMIT Gallery until 23 January, 2010.

Winners will be announced by RMIT Acting Vice-Chancellor Professor Daine Alcorn, at a special presentation at RMIT Gallery on 20 January from 6 pm – 8 pm. All welcome.

For media enquiries, photos and interviews with artists:

RMIT Gallery Media Coordinator, Evelyn Tsitas, (03) 9925 1716, 0418 139 015, or evelyn.tsitas@rmit.edu.au.