Prize Focus - Ian Robinson Prize

­Ian Robinson owns and runs a Nottingham-based business that specialises in digital and traditional sign making, supplying the TV/Film industry as well as museums and galleries.  Alice Thickett speaks to Ian about his business and why he sponsors the Castle Open. IanLogo

Ian has been inviting me to his house to see his art collection for over a year now, but we’ve never got round to fixing a date – so this interview gave me the perfect opportunity on a sunny Sunday afternoon to travel just outside the City to Ian’s lovely home.

2013-08-18 18.07.34 Ian's front room. Photo: Alice Thickett

As I enter his house, it is immediately evident that Ian is a Collector; the living room is covered with art - the walls, surfaces and even the floors contain paintings, ceramics and drawings of all kinds. So, has he ever bought any artwork from the Castle Open?

Yes, I bought a piece a long time before I got involved with sponsoring a prize for the Open.  It is a large painting – in fact, it’s the biggest piece I own by an artist called Jasmine Watterson; she worked at the Castle but no one knew she was a painter.

It now stands in front of me and, although not of my own tastes, I can see why this piece caught Ian’s eye.

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Ian's first purchase by Jasmine Watterson. Photo: Alice Thickett

Two years ago, Ian asked me to assist him with choosing the winner of the Ian Robinson Prize, so I have an idea of what Ian looks for in a piece of work, but has his tastes changed over the years?

When I first started sponsoring the Castle Open [four years ago], the prize was for painting – as painting and ceramics are my biggest interest. But I think my prize for the Open should literally be open to all artforms.


Alice and Ian pondering at the Castle Open 2012.  Photo: Anthony Hopwood.

It’s true, last year Ian surprised me and chose Colette Griffin’s contemporary sculpture made of concrete and latex.

I haven’t got a remit. I’ll give the prize to the artwork that grabs me on the day.”

Of course, Ian has also worked with many of the artist’s who apply to the Castle Open exhibition, supplying them with display lettering for their shows, but why did he get involved with sponsoring a prize for the exhibition?

I already work with a lot of local artists, including the Castle for many years, and when Tristram [Exhibitions Officer, Castle Museum] approached me to sponsor a prize I thought it would not only be a good link to my own collecting, but would be a good way to be more involved in the art scene and give something back.”

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Winner of the Ian Robinson Prize 2012, Collette Griffin, Shape 1, 2012.

Originally, Ian was intending to offer his own business services as a prize, but he now offers a £200 cash instead. I ask him why he made that decision:

Giving services as a prize didn’t seem appropriate for every winner, and with John E Wrights giving a generous service prize already, I wanted to do something different. The prize I give is to enable artists to buy materials and equipment to continue making work.” And does he ever find out what the winner’s do with his cash prize?

James McElvaney was the winner of the first prize I sponsored in 2010. He wrote to me and told me that winning the prize inspired him to buy more art materials, and later that year he had his first solo show. It’s nice to know that artist’s I choose don’t just spend the money on partying!”

Alice Thickett is an artist and curator based in Nottingham. Ian Robinson is now on twitter, follow his account @iv_robinson