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BRETT KEBBLE ART AWARDS (article first published : 2004-10-19)

In a decision that saw the judges of this year's Brett Kebble Art Awards locked in heated deliberation for three days, two Top Awards have been granted in this year's prestigious BKAA. Grahamstown artist Tanya Katherine Poole (33) and Phillip Rikhotso (59), a rural artist from Daniel Village near Giyani, were both chosen by the judging panel to receive Top Awards.

Poole uses video and animation to give a new dimension to oil paint portraiture, while Rikhotso is a wood carver who creates idiosyncratic figures that tell stories of Tsonga legend. Although the judges' brief was to select only one Top Award winner, they were so impressed by Poole and Rikhotso that they felt that both were equally deserving of the coveted title. They consulted patron Brett Kebble who agreed that two top awards would be made. Because this meant that only five major awards of R60,000 would be made instead of six, Kebble made the top prize money R260,000, which the artists will share equally.

His R130,000 Award will transform Rikhotoso's life. He is the sole breadwinner for his wife and eight children and so poor he had to borrow R20 to travel from his thatched hut home to Giyani to meet organizers arranging his travel to Cape Town. He said he would use the Award money to buy a bakkie so he could travel to fetch wood for more carvings. Described by a friend as “shy and eccentric”, Rikhotso has recently begun to attract international attention. Earlier this year he traveled to Holland where he contributed to an exhibition called Identities.

The judges said that his work, consisting of 13 "traditionally South African" wooden figures, is of the highest international standards. "This is a spontaneous work in a typically South African visual language. Conceptually it is very sophisticated and pushes the boundaries of the genre," said Lucia Burger, one of the five judges who had the difficult choice of selecting the winners. Fellow judge, Frank Ledimo, praised the honesty and simplicity of Rikhotso's piece: "The works have a magical, mythical quality which creates a strong sense of narrative. I particularly liked the simplicity of it and the economic use of colour and form. This is a proudly and distinctively South African piece with global credibility."

Tanya Poole's work drew equal praise. Judge Penny Siopis described it as, "a supremely moving, challenging piece.” Says Burger: “It's a simple concept dealing with an immensely complex issue, namely the relationship between children and adults - a particularly topical theme in South Africa right now. It explores issues of communication, authority and vulnerability, while the handling of the medium challenges the boundaries of both painting and video."

Patron Brett Kebble said that when the judges first approached him with a request to award two top prizes he understood their dilemma immediate. "Both works are magnificent and both in very different ways break new ground. Tanya Poole's work is almost eerily evocative and I think will have a huge influence on portraiture. Phillip's Rikhotso's work is endlessly fascinating and changes the way we think about wood carving."

Poole describes herself as a child of the world. She was born in Canada, grew up in Bahrain and now lives in the Eastern Cape with her South African artist husband Nigel Mullins and their three-and-a-half-year old daughter Sophie. Sophie is the subject of one of the portraits that won her the top award. The other portrait is of her father Ron. Poole's family moved to South Africa in 1981 and she enrolled at Rhodes University for her first degree. "I met my husband when I was 20. I was modeling at the art school and he was teaching the students who were sketching me. We married three years later."

Poole is a professional artist who is also a part time drawing teacher at Rhodes University Fine Arts Department. She “guesses” that her combination of oil painting and animation is unique and said she moved into the field because "the limits of portraiture were getting too tight for me." The winning entry is the first such work she has ever made. She will use the Award money to set up an animation studio in Grahamstown with her husband.

In addition to the top awards, five other artists each received Major Awards of R60 000 for their works: New Media entry, Step Inside by Nathaniel Stern; the 100 metre long Keiskamma Tapestry by the Keiskamma Art Project; video piece, Jet Hotel by Sue Williamson; sculpture, and Time Line (D10) by Marco Cianfanelli. Performing artist Jay Pather from Durban added yet another award to his growing list of accolades for his choreography of The Kitchen.

Six merit awards of R10 000 each were bestowed upon: Bronwyn Eunice Findlay for A Painting about a Bedspread; Zen Marie for her photography entry, Pitch Markings 00005 + 00006; Mberegeni Ndou for his sculpture entitled Celebration for winning the 2010 World Soccer Bid; Nemurunzini Fhumulani Elikanah, June 16 Youth Day, also a sculpture; Jeremy Wafer for his new media installation, Enhlobe 7638 and the collaborative stop frame animation digital piece, And there in the dust by Lara Foot Newton and Gerhard Marx.

The finalists' exhibition is open to the public until October 29 at the Cape Town International Convention Centre, Convention Square, 1 Lower Long Street, Cape Town. Viewing times are between 09h00 to 21h00 daily. Entrance is free and curators will be available for walkabouts.

The finalists' exhibition is open to the public until October 29 at the Cape Town International Convention Centre, Convention Square, 1 Lower Long Street, Cape Town. Viewing times are between 09h00 to 21h00 daily. Entrance is free and curators will be available for walkabouts.




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