John, 74, wins national art prize with longing lockdown piece

A 74-year-old from Shropshire has flexed his creative muscles during the lockdown to win a national competition.

John Wragg with his winning artwork, 'Four - World Window'
John Wragg with his winning artwork, 'Four - World Window'

John Wragg of Oakengates has taken first place in the Chairman’s Prize category of the King Lear Prizes, a new national arts competition launched in March 2020 to encourage artistic creativity among older people during the lockdown.

His lino print ‘Four – Worlds Window’ – which brings four spaces together, all present in the same place and at the same time – beat thousands of other entries in the inaugural prizes. The competition attracted more than 14,000 entries in total across six categories from 5,000 people across the UK and British citizens overseas.

Born in Stockport, Mr Wragg trained at the Salford School of Art, followed by St. Martin’s School of Art and the Hornsey School of Art in London. Much of his work is abstract and geometrical in appearance, but his printmaking sometimes embraces representational imagery, as in 'Four – Worlds Window'. Whatever the subject matter, he says that the emphasis always focuses on the spatial aspects of the image.

For his winning entry, Mr Wragg will receive £1,000 in prize money. Speaking about the moment he found out he had won, he said: “When I was shortlisted for the Chairman's Prize, I was delighted and surprised that my lino print ‘Four – Worlds Window’ was one of 22 shortlisted works.

"Then I just put it out of my mind and got on with my work, as I do most days. So I was elated, to say the least, when the King Lear Prizes phoned me to inform me I'd won!

“I'd already begun to plan my winning print before I heard about the King Lear Prizes. I wanted it to challenge me technically, thereby extending my lino printing skills. I knew when I heard about the King Lear Prizes that this competition would be ideal for my print.

"The extensive time limits, the organisation of the event and the generous prizes on offer – as well as no entry fees – were all very attractive incentives to enter. I also felt my subject matter was appropriate for these times.

"The idea of a multiple view, bringing separate spaces together, all present in the same place at the same time, seemed to echo a reverie of longing for freedom in lockdown. Without any doubt, this has been the unexpected highlight of lockdown for me. Thank you to everyone at King Lear Prizes.”

'The rays of sunlight give us all hope'

The inaugural competition was supported by famous writers, actors, musicians and artists, such as broadcaster Gyles Brandreth, who judged the poetry category, literary editor of the Spectator Sam Leith, who judged the short story category, and cellist Julian Lloyd Webber, who judged the music category.

Andrew Browning, the chairman of the King Lear Prizes and judge for the Chairman’s Prize category, said: “John’s work tells the story that we all know so well: of being stuck inside during the pandemic.

"'Four – Worlds Window' shows off his technical skill, with the layers of the image coming together. The rays of sunlight give us all hope that we will soon emerge once more from our isolation. Bravo to John, a worthy winner, and well done to all our other King Lear Prizes shortlistees."

The competition and its mission have also been championed by older people charities, such as Age UK.

Caroline Abrahams, Charity Director of Age UK, previously said: “Spending more time at home and apart from our family and friends inevitably means big changes to our normal activities and routines. As a result, looking after our mental and physical health is going to be very important, and taking time to be creative can be really beneficial.

"Having a project to focus on, like a submission for the King Lear Prizes, is fantastic and will hopefully bring a sense of achievement and much joy to everyone who takes part, and I look forward to seeing what is produced during these challenging times.”

The inaugural competition was open to people over 70 with no professional experience in the arts, to submit new short stories, poetry, short plays, solo musical compositions and art during the time they were quarantined. As a result of the huge initial response, the Chairman’s Prize category was announced for the best entry from anyone over 60 who did not fit into one of the existing amateur prize categories (including professional artists).

The prizes take their name from Shakespeare’s play King Lear, which was written in 1605 and 1606 during outbreaks of the plague in London.

‘Four – Worlds Window’, as well as the other winning and shortlisted entries, are available to view at kinglearprizes.org.uk.

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