Scots-based artist Richard Wright wins £25,000 Turner Prize and the memory at least will last
HE IS an artist whose oeuvre thrives on impermanence and who wants none of his work to survive his death.
• Glasgow painter Richard Wright, 49, poses in front of his artwork at the Tate Britain in London after being named the oldest-ever winner of the Turner Prize
But last night Scottish-based Richard Wright received a permanent place in art history when he became the oldest-ever winner, scooping the 2009 Turner Prize.
Wright, who attended both Edinburgh College of Art and Glasgow School or Art and now lives in Glasgow, beat the bookmakers' favourite, Roger Hiorns, to win what is considered one of the world's top contemporary art prizes.
Over the past 25 years, the award has sparked intense controversy over just what art is and what it is not, often highlighting the work of contemporary art's foremost enfants terribles.
Damien Hirst won the Turner in 1995 with a pickled cow and Chris Ofili caused a stir in 1998 for works that incorporated lumps of elephant dung.
In comparison with such controversial winners, though, Wright's work is relatively sedate, consisting mainly of mathematically precise wall frescoes.
For Tate Britain's Turner Prize exhibition, Wright's piece consisted of a baroque-style painting in gold leaf, which progresses in geometric swirls across an entire wall, mirrored on an opposing wall by a pair of smaller patterns etched in red.
His work, pieces of which are on show in New York's Museum of Modern Art, and London Tate Gallery, has been likened to the ephemeral beauty of a glistening spider's web, something created with painstaking detail but which will not last. "I like the idea of there being nothing left when I'm gone," said Wright, whose work will be painted over when the exhibition ends in January.
The Tate Britain piece took four weeks to create with the help of four assistants.
He said he sometimes felt sad when his work was destroyed, but also relieved. "I'm interested in the fragility of the moment," he said.
"I hope the work will live on in the memories of the people who saw it. I have been surprised and touched by the reactions of people who saw it."
Wright's success as an artist came through a change in direction for his work in his thirties. Having spent much of his early life painting figurative works on canvas, in the early 1990s he eschewed canvas and concentrated on fresco-type paintings for specific architectural contexts.
At 49, Wright only just qualified for the prize, which is open to British-based artists under the "age of 50 whose work over the past year has been judged especially innovative or important".
While short on the shock value of past winners, the Turner Prize judges said Wright's work was no less radical. They praised the "profound originality and beauty" of his designs, and the high standard of the competition in general.
"Rooted in fine art tradition yet radically conceptual in impact, Wright's works come alive as they are experienced by the viewer," the jury said in a statement.
However, in a review of the current Turner exhibition, The Scotsman's art critic Duncan MacMillan was less complimentary about Wright's work, describing it as "mildly decorative" but stating that the piece was lost in the vast gallery space, while he criticised the assertion that accompanies the piece that Wright's work "distorts our perception of an architectural space" as a "meaningless cliche".
Wright picks up a cheque for 25,000, while the three other shortlisted candidates – Enrico David, Roger Hiorns and Lucy Skaer – each receives a cheque for 5,000.
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