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John Stringer Prize shines a light on WA artists

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Local artist Stewart Scambler was announced as the winner of the prestigious John Stringer Prize 2023, at the exhibition opening at John Curtin Gallery last night.

The annual event saw five artists invited to participate, with Scambler’s winning artwork Yindjibarndi Country exhibited alongside works from fellow 2023 finalists Angelina Karadada Boona, Ilona McGuire, Amy Perejuan-Capone and Corban Clause Williams.

The John Stringer Prize aims to provide exposure for Western Australian artists and their work, and create new relationships between artists, collectors and industry.

In a secret ballot at the exhibition opening, members of the Collectors Club awarded Yindjibarndi Country the Prize.

Scambler said the work was four years in the making and described the acknowledgement as “overwhelming”.

“I never expected to win, I was excited just to be able to make a work like that because there are very few places where you can do such a big piece,” he said.

“All of the other artists’ work is so strong, so I feel very privileged to be awarded this.

“For me, it means there are people who find my work valid and have an emotional response to it, that it’s not just about me — and I find that important, because I think art needs to have an emotional impact.”

Born in Scotland and arriving in Australia in the 1950s, Scambler spent his early career working in an oil industry laboratory, before studying ceramics and then making it his full-time career in the 1980s.

Environmental concerns drive much of Scambler’s work, with Yindjibarndi Country a reflection of his time spent in the land surrounding Yandanyirra (the Fortescue River).

The work uses Western Australian materials such as brick clay and materials gathered during his journey in the area such as iron ore fines, dust from Scambler’s vehicle and ochres given by a Yindjibarndi elder.

“I am interested in the land and its importance both as home and driver of cultural identity,” Scambler said.

“Despite extensive testing, the use of local unrefined materials still produces unexpected results.

“I work with that uncertainty to explore how the changes in land use and population manifest themselves; I wonder if the land weeps for its people.”

The John Stringer Prize is named in honour of acclaimed art curator, the late John Stringer, who mentored the Collectors Club to develop informed collecting practices in Western Australia through consistent purchasing of artworks, support for artists, and the enthusiastic promotion of contemporary WA art.

The exhibition is made possible by Principle Exhibition Sponsor Lendlease, and the John Curtin Gallery Navigators, with Scambler awarded $12,500 from the Collectors Club.

John Curtin Gallery, at Curtin University’s Bentley campus, has hosted the exhibition since 2018, which is often the first opportunity for the artists involved to exhibit at a major public gallery.

The John Stringer Prize Exhibition runs until December 10, entry is free.

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