Reflecting on the growth of the John Fries Award

John Fries Award 2015 catalogue cover. Artwork: Will French, All, 2015
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I've been involved in running the John Fries Award since it was established in 2009 as a memorial prize by the Viscopy board and the Fries family, to honour the formative influence John Fries had on the development of Viscopy. 

John had been a Viscopy Director and Honorary Treasurer for five years until his tragic and unexpected death in 2009. As an accountant with extensive experience in the corporate environment, John’s contributions to the organisation were anchored in his realistic and forward-thinking attitude. He possessed a true empathy with the financial challenges faced by artists. 

John was an adventurous and curious person, always keen to travel and explore opportunities. He followed current events and held strong views on social, political and economic issues. He was an avid reader, visited galleries and enjoyed attending theatre and music performances, but was often baffled by the more contemporary end of the cultural spectrum. I imagine he would find many of the artworks in the John Fries Award challenging, but I like to think he would take the time to consider their humour, personal as well as socio-political contexts, and how they comment on current events.

John Fries Award 2015 catalogue page 7 - Kath Fries
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I am very fortunate to have had two parents who both supported me in becoming an artist, especially with a father as an accountant; he knew I was embarking on a career that was the antithesis of his, extremely financially unstable but richly rewarding in other areas. John’s motivation on the Viscopy board was largely due to me being an artist, and trying to understand and assist more broadly with the complex landscape of supporting culture in our society. Particularly in retirement, John was thoughtful and engaged in sharing and extending his financial skills by working pro-bono with the Red Cross and Rotary, as well as Viscopy. These positions were part of his personal contribution towards creating a more diverse and generous world. 

My father’s proactive attitude has influenced my work with Viscopy on the John Fries Award since its beginning. Over that time, the award outgrew the exhibition spaces in Viscopy’s Chippendale offices, into the eclectic Gaffa Galleries artist-run-space, and now it is presented in the impressive new galleries of UNSW Art & Design. The network of finalists and winners has become a remarkable list of alumni. Even within six years, several of our past winners and finalists have received significant grants, sales and commissions, as well as overseas exhibitions, opportunities and residencies. The guest curators, judges, Viscopy board and committed team at the Copyright Agency have all been essential to our work towards the goal of pursuing best practice in administering the award, valuing the work that artists do and the importance of the complex creative processes behind their artworks. 

Each year the John Fries Award presents an exciting and engaging exhibition, but beyond that, the award’s generous and inclusive sentiments ripple out into our larger cultural landscape. 

I’m proud of how the John Fries Award reflects and commemorates John’s pragmatic and benevolent support of his family, friends, colleagues and community, by seeking ways to assist them to develop their skills, explore opportunities and pursue their dreams. 

Kath Fries
Artist and daughter
September 2015

John Fries Award 2015 Public Programs 

The 2015 John Fries Award Finalists exhibition is currently showing at UNSW Galleries Paddington and continues to 10 October 2015