Young people and teachers picked up prizes this week for giant strides in visual expression. Elaine Williams reports.
Asllan Tatani's hand flows around the smooth, rounded, shapes of the Henry Moore piece. He stands amid the whispering grasses of the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, taking in yet again the forms of his favourite sculpture, forms that have inspired this 16-year-old to make wonderful art of his own and to blot out the horror of his past life.
Asllan, a Kosovan refugee, is a winner in Artworks, the National Children's Art Awards, which were presented yesterday, on National Children's Art Day, at the Tate Modern in London. Less than two years ago, he and his family were driven from their home in a village near Pristina by Serbian soldiers on a killing mission. Asllan became separated from his parents, younger brother and sister while fleeing through mountains towards Macedonia; he still does not know the fate of his family. His escape to England in the back of a lorry brought him to a new home with a loving foster family and a place at Wakefield City high school, which has recognised and developed his gift in art.
At the heart of the Artworks scheme is recognition of the transforming power of art for young people. Asllan's response to the works of Moore and other artists such as Picasso and Fra Angelico has carried him through the grief of the past year. Teachers encouraged his self-expression through visual language to compensate for his initial lack of English. His remarkably decorative paintings and sculptures of angels, his sculptures of reclining figures and his models of boats and birds in flight seem to speak of his hardships and resilience, hope and faith. "Making these things has helped me a lot," he says. "Thinking about these artists, their colours and shapes, helps me to forget what went before."
Artworks aims to turn the spotlight on teachers as well as pupils, and Barbara Kuleczko, Asllan's art teacher, has played a key role. With a research background in design, she quickly recognised his talents in pattern-making and use of form and colour. As a Polish national, who came to Britain as a young woman with no English, she has been able to empathise with Asllan. "Self-motivation is a built-in mechanism in this boy," she says. "He never gives up. Once he had learned some basic art techniques he realised he could really communicate visually. He has exceptional skills and is very inquisitive."
Asllan was entered for the "motivated individual" category of the awards, which also celebrate gallery partnerships and group projects. In this second year of the awards, prizes have gone to 10 school-gallery partnerships, 20 motivated individuals have been chosen, and there are 10 group projects and six special encouragement awards. The awards were the highlight of National Children's Art Day, which has sparked events in dozens of museums and galleries for the coming week, all funded by the Clore-Duffield Foundation, which donates pound;8 million a year to arts and heritage education.
East Allington primary school in Totnes, Devon, won a group award for its Turner Light Box project, which involved 32 children in Years 5 and 6 making abstract colour works on Perspex using tissue paper and PVA glue, based on sections of four Turner oil paintings. The Perspex "paintings" were hung together from a cubed frame and illuminated to make a large single light box. Caroline Mercer, their teacher, says the children spent months looking at works by Turner, making colour and tonal studies, and charcoal, pencil and watercolour sketches.
The judges were struck by the appropriate treatment of Turner and praised the project for developing pupils as thinkers as well as makers.
Spennymoor school, a 650-strong secondary in County Durham, has been developing a relationship over 10 years with the nearby Oriental Museum at the University of Durham. Every year, GCSE art candidates visit the museum and produce paintings, prints and sculptures. Stephen Livingstone built up this relationship to widen the cultural horizons of his pupils, who come from a largely white, working-class area, blighted by unemployment and poverty. Their studies of the museum's collection have produced striking, graphic works.
"The Oriental Museum is only 10 minutes away, but it forms such a contrasting world to the one our pupils live in," says Mr Livingstone. "They see it as magical, full of things they have never seen before. Familiarity with other cultures also breeds tolerance." The school plans to use its prize money to set up a gallery space and develop its internet art project with links to students in Japan, China and Korea.
Other winners include a gallery partnership between Quarff primary, a 12-pupil school on Shetland, and the Bonhoga Gallery, as well as a Buckinghamshire project involving pupils from Aylesbury Vale secondary support centre and young patients with spinal injuries in Stoke Mandeville hospital. In this latter project, students explored the nature of "space" within the hospital.
Peter Jenkinson, director of the New Art Gallery, Walsall, is one of the Artworks judges (also on the panel are Tate Modern director Lars Nittve, artist Cornelia Parker and fashion designer Professor Helen Storey). "This competition makes visible the wonderful art that is going on in schools," says Mr Jenkinson. "The work we have chosen is massively enjoyable, exciting projects that have clearly engaged children's imagination."
Overall entries are down on last year (650 compared to 800), which organisers put down to increasing pressure on teachers. There was also disappointment at the predictability of some work, a significant number of entries being influenced by Andy Goldsworthy, Van Gogh and Monet.
Sally Bacon, executive director of the Clore-Duffield Foundation, says: "There is a definite orthodoxy in school, a very short list of artists that teachers tend to look at." She says the aim of the competition is to disseminate good practice and that the best work is often quirky and original. Artworks is about pushing teachers in more challenging directions.
Next year there will be workshops available to teachers in addition to the existing virtual gallery on the Artworks website, which details the process behind the winning works. This year's winners all received a signed limited edition print by Richard Wentworth; from next year, Artworks will give the equivalent to all schools that enter, says Ms Bacon, "so schools can build up their own collection of exciting and challenging works".
See www.art-works.org.uk for events in your area ARTWORKS: THE WINNERS
Gallery partnerships (pound;2,000 for each school to spend on art resources).
Cape Cornwall comprehensive, PenzanceGreat Atlantic Map Works Gallery; Castle school for pupils with moderate learning difficulties, WalsallNew Art Gallery, Walsall; County high school, Northwich, CheshireSalt Museum, Northwich; London borough of Hounslow pupil referral serviceOrleans House Gallery, Twickenham, Middlesex; Kepler early years centre, Leeds Leeds City Art Gallery; Quarff primary school, ShetlandBonhoga Gallery, Shetland; Spennymoor school, Co Durham Oriental Museum, University of Durham; St George's CE primary school, BirminghamIkon Gallery, Birmingham; St Gregory's RC comprehensive school, Bath Victoria Art Gallery, Bath; Stoborough CE VC first school, Wareham, DorsetStudy Gallery, Poole, Dorset
Group projects (pound;2,000 for each school).
Ansford community school, Castle Cary, Somerset; Bridge and Patrixbourne CE primary school, Canterbury, Kent; East Allington primary school, Totnes, Devon; Fox primary school, London borough of Kensington and Chelsea; Holme Hall primary school, Chesterfield; Marlfields primary school, Congleton, Cheshire; Shrewsbury high school, Worcs; Sir William Burrough primary school, London borough of Tower Hamlets; Vale Resource Base, Northumberland Park community school, London borough of Haringey.
Encouragement Awards (pound;1,000 for each school)
Hillhead primary school, Wick, Caithness; Glencryan special school, Glasgow; Meadowbank special school, Cardiff; Mill Water school, Honiton, Devon; Fetlar primary school, Shetland; Hessle high school, East Riding of Yorkshire.
(pound;50 art voucher and family membership of the National Art Collections Fund for the pupil, pound;300 for the school) Primary.
Conrad Clarke, 10, King's St Albans school, Worcester; Josh Emms, 8, Braddock CE primary school, Lostwithiel, Cornwall; Amy Levinson, 11, Trevor Roberts' school, London borough of Camden; Valentino Marchase, 6, Latchmere infant school, London borough of Kingston-upon-Thames; John Mason, 10, St Benedict's junior school, London borough of Ealing; Tom O'Ryan, 10, St Mary's School, Harborne, Birmingham; Katie Thompson, 4, Warren Road primary school, Orpington, Kent.
Erin Beech, 16, St John Fisher RC high school, Newcastle-under-Lyme, Staffordshire; Ellie Bristow, 15, Fairfield high school, Hereford; Charlotte Buckland-Harriss, 15, Honywood community school, Coggeshall, Essex; Quinton Clarke, 15, Normanhurst school, Chingford, London borough of Waltham Forest; Charlotte Crowther, 15, Farnborough Hill school, Farnborough, Hants; Catherine Jessop, 15, St Cuthbert's RC high school, Rochdale, Lancashire; Kira Kemble, 13, Grey Court school, London borough of Richmond-upon-Thames; Verity Oates, 13, Hill House school, Doncaster; Philip Range, 13, Red Rose school, St Anne's on Sea, Lancashire; Asllan Tatani, 16, Wakefield City high school; Jamie Thomson, 14, Pool Hayes comprehensive school, Walsall, West Midlands; Katharine Walker, 15, Caister high school, Great Yarmouth, Norfolk; Donna Woodward, 15, Royds Hall high school, Huddersfield, Kirklees