I am intrigued and inspired by the fourteen artists in the John Fries Award 2016 exhibition. Their works are provocative and political, reflective and humorous. They are courageous in speaking freely and pointedly through their work, despite being caught up in the midst of particularly challenging times as humanitarian, ecological, economical, socio and political tensions are building around the world.
Pursuing a career as an artist today may seem foolish, as national support and funding for the arts is being slashed and art schools are being closed. Those faint calls from the top to invest in creativity and innovation are drowned out by short-sighted profit margins. However, artists explore ways of communicating their diverse visions and diffracting voices, actively practising creative problem solving. They share with us a multiplicity of perspectives rather than capitulating to apathetic homogeneity. We must value our artists, now more than ever.
Over the past seven years the John Fries Award has played a small but significant role in supporting early career artists from Australia and New Zealand. This award was established in memory of my father, John Fries (1943-2009). Although he was not an artist, he is remembered as supporting the arts and valuing artists’ contributions to society. John was an accountant, engaging with the arts both from a position in the audience and contributing his corporate skills and financial knowledge as Viscopy’s Honorary Treasurer and Board member during the organisation’s formative years.
John understood how greatly society benefits from the skills, passions and unique viewpoints of artists. The arts has a resounding impact on how we comprehend ourselves historically, critique the present, and how we imagine we want to live together and understand each other in the future. Annual lists of the richest and most influential people are soon lost in the noise of time, unless those people support the arts and humanitarian causes. John was not at all famous or even immensely wealthy, but his pragmatic and benevolent support of his family, friends, colleagues and community, and his efforts to assist them to develop their skills, explore opportunities and pursue their dreams, is warmly remembered by many, and commemorated by this award. John possessed a true empathy with the financial challenges faced by artists, which he demonstrated through his work with Viscopy. His realistic and forward-thinking attitude still influences the organisation today and resonates in this annual award.
The fourteen artists in the John Fries Award 2016 are to be congratulated – their works are thoughtful, challenging and innovative. Although they are in the early stages of their careers, they demonstrate a serious commitment to developing their artistic practices, as well as engaging with their communities and giving back to society. These fourteen are just one small tip of an immense iceberg; an exciting diverse taste of what we can anticipate in the future, so long as we all continue to support the arts and persist in valuing artists’ adventurous endeavours.
Artist and John Fries Award Committee Chair
- John Fries Award 2016 Catalogue Foreword -
John Fries Award 2016 invitation - johnfriesaward.com
John Fries Award 2016
opening 6pm Thursday 18 August
continues until 1 October 2016
cnr Oxford St and Greens Rd, Paddington NSW