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Big Bucks for Blank Wall

03 Aug 2023

Mother-of-two and artist Connah Podmore explains what her win at the prestigious $25,000 Parkin Drawing Prize means to her career. 

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 Connah Podmore, Street light (the room where your brother was born). Photo: Supplied.

From a blank canvas to a blank wall - the act of parenting has become the inspiration for Connah Podmore to secure a career-changing victory.

She's kickstarted August in the perfect way, announced as the winner of the 2023 Parkin Drawing Prize from over 500 entries and 85 other finalists at the New Zealand Academy of Fine Arts’ Academy Galleries.

Connah’s work Street light (the room where your brother was born) was created in charcoal on lining paper, pasted on the wall - and the result has blown her away.

“I certainly wasn’t expecting to win so I am feeling quite overwhelmed. There are some amazing drawings in this exhibition, so just to be part of the show was an honour for me.”

Podmore, who has previously been Highly Commended in the 2021 Parkin Drawing Prize told The Big Idea "I've followed this award for years, and have entered many times - sometimes with success and sometimes not. 

"I love that it is a platform to celebrate and discuss drawing. I hugely admire the work of other winners over the years and have loved visiting the finalist show each year. Being an artist can be quite a lonely occupation a lot of the time and even when we exhibit work, it can seem that we put it up in a gallery and then walk away to allow others to privately experience it. 

The support and validation that has come with this award is everything. 

"The community brought together on award night itself makes for such a special occasion. I met some amazing artists last Tuesday night, and it was lovely to be in an environment where art is agreed to be something of value."

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Connah Podmore (right) in front of her award-winning work, alongside arts philanthropist Chris Parkin. Photo: Supplied.

The Wellingtonian's winning work drew strong praise from this year's judge, Auckland Art Gallery Director Kirsten Lacey. 

"This drawing evokes for the viewer our own domestic spaces, where we come to intimately know of our own blank walls. Walls which are never really blank but inscribed with changing shadows, patterns marks and potholes of life. Blank walls which are in fact personal, known to us by virtue of the reflected light of possessions, gifted or bought and their associated memories, while light passes over our roofs marking time across the surface. Walls renovated, re-painted, pock marked from picture frames, or the scuff of boots.

"I loved this work for the attention put to the drawing of blankness, so as the viewer can meditate on what fills their walls. I felt it to be a metaphor for the challenge of meditating with an empty mind, allowing the day's thoughts and images to pass by as we seek refuge from constant information and content.”

According to Podmore, her winning piece is a love letter to her family, and in memory of the many long nights spent feeding her son on the couch and staring at the wall in her living room.

“This is the back wall of our old living room. It is an ordinary room, where ordinary things happened but significant to me as this is where we spent our days when my children were young. When they were babies, I used to stare at the changing shadows on this wall as I nursed them to sleep each night.

"One of my key aims for this piece is to draw attention to the depth present in what we overlook as ordinary and unremarkable. This idea is particularly important to me when thinking about motherhood and acts of caregiving generally.”

Podmore, who is mother to 3-year-old Renny and 6-year-old Lewis, works part-time at Inverlochy Art School in Wellington. Finding time to create between those roles is "a juggle", she admits.

"I get great support from my partner and my Mum. They have both rearranged their work weeks so that they can be with the kids and I can have some regular work time once a week. 

"This isn't a huge amount of time but it definitely helps to keep the momentum going and I just take things pretty slowly, with drawings taking months to create. Sometimes the kids come in and draw with me - sometimes this works and sometimes this doesn't!"

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Podmore's youngest Renny getting to "be like mum", given a panel to himself one day while she was working on her award-winning drawing. Photo: Supplied.

Podmore's winning work is the second of a series she has been working on which reflects on her early experiences of being a stay-at-home parent. The first piece This body also holds mine - commissioned by Te Tuhi in Auckland in 2019 - is also a charcoal drawing depicting her then one-year-old son’s bedroom wall in the early hours of the morning.

The $25,000 prize - sponsored by Chris Parkin, arts patron, and philanthropist - will give Podmore more opportunity to focus on her craft.

"My youngest will be off to school in a year's time and the prize money will be used to supplement my income so that I will have studio time. I'm hoping that with more time I will be able to experiment more."

Podmore is the 11th name to go on the winners list of the award that puts drawing on a pedestal - following Monique Jansen (2013) with AO Folded Moire Drawing, Douglas Stichbury (2014) with Observer, Gabrielle Amodeo (2015) with The Floor We Walk On, Hannah Beehre’s Catastrophe (2016), Kirsty Lillico’s carpet installation State Block (2017), Jacqui Colley for Long Echo (2018), Michael Dell’s Every Valley (2019), Poppy Lekner’s Forward Slash (2020), Mark Braunias’ work In search of the Saccharine Underground and Siân Stephens Liam Cutting His Hair After An All-nighter.

Podmore and the other shortlisted artworks are on exhibit and up for sale until 11 September at the NZ Academy of Fine Arts in Wellington - with other exhibitions on her horizon.

"Photographer Jonathan Kay and I are showing work together at Meanwhile in October and I have a solo show booked for January at Toi Pōneke."