Ian Robinson is a local business owner who specialises in digital and traditional sign making and vinyl lettering. He has worked with numerous galleries and artists within Nottingham and felt compelled to support artists based in the Midlands by becoming a sponsor of the Nottingham Castle Open. This year he will once again award the Ian Robinson Prize, a £200 cash donation that will be given to one of the 32 exhibitors. Here Ian discusses his relationship with the Nottingham Castle Open and passion for collecting art.
[CG] How long have you been sponsoring the Nottingham Castle Open and why do you continue to provide one talented recipient each year with the Ian Robinson Prize?
[IR] This is my fifth year as a sponsor, but I have been buying small pieces of art, ceramics and paintings mainly, for 15 years. Having worked on the Open, as well as other exhibitions at the castle and various galleries in the city I felt that becoming a sponsor allowed me to give a bit back.
I do a lot of work with some of the artists who have shown in the Open, and because of this Tristram Aver (Exhibitions Officer) approached me to ask if I was interested in becoming a sponsor, and I jumped at the chance. Originally it was just a painting prize but the last two years I have selected sculptors, so we will see what happens this year.
A cash prize is very different to many of the other awards given by sponsors of the Nottingham Castle Open, how do you hope the selected artist will benefit from this prize and do you have any input into its use?
I have no input at all, but have had some good feedback in the past from artists who have used the money productively, to buy materials or to work on a solo exhibition and not just spent it on a night out. I had a great reaction from Jim McElvaney, who I am still in touch with. He was thrilled with the prize, having been unsure of what direction to take his practice in the prize gave him the impetus to make a new body of work and this led to him having his first solo exhibition.
Other sponsors give either space, or vouchers for materials but I thought a cash prize was the way to go, rather than giving business services in the form of vinyl lettering, which the artist may not want or need. It gives the artist the freedom to do what they want.
Last year you awarded the prize to Liam Aitken, who was also awarded the Syson Prize. After awarding the prize do you continue to follow the artists’ progress when that years Open has drawn to a close?
I have worked with Liam recently on a project and a few weeks ago received an invitation to an opening from my second prize winner, Paul Crook. Paul still regularly sends me exhibition invites, which is great as I like to hear that recipients of my prize are still doing well and making work.
Unlike many of the other opportunities available to exhibiting artists you do not need to consider how a particular artists work will translate to a solo exhibition for example, so is it very much your own personal taste in art that drives your selection?
I started off just selecting painting from the Castle Open, but the prize isn’t fixed to painting at all. I have a completely open remit, whereas many of the other sponsors are looking for a particular type of work, to fit in with an exhibition or a space. John E Wright donates a generous prize in the form of print services; however he is looking primarily for a print-maker as they will benefit best from what he offers as a sponsor. Whereas I just go in and see what catches my eye.
From the point of view of a sponsor and a member of the public what is your opinion of the Nottingham Castle Open, and of its merits as a showcase of local talent?
It is important and can be quite controversial, but anything like this, be it at Nottingham Castle, Djanogly or an independent gallery in the city gives artists an opportunity to get their work out there, which is crucial, and to have the possibility of receiving a prize as well as is good. Being outside London we cannot compete with the big city in terms of opportunities and prizes, but I think the Nottingham Castle Open is nonetheless very important. I feel it’s good that it is kept relatively local, unlike other open submission exhibitions such as the John Moores Painting Prize, which is an excellent opportunity but is not exclusive to the North of England.
Working in the arts and collecting work you have a very personal interest in the Open, how do you go about choosing who receives your prize and do you enjoy the process?
I enjoy the process greatly. I like looking at the selection, seeing new work, something that’s going to inspire me, something that’s different. Sometimes I have to stop myself buying work because I haven’t got any space left. I haven’t got a rationale, and even though I see images of the work prior to the show I have no idea who I will select, and you can’t until you see the exhibition. Alice Thickett has helped me that last few years and in the past we have made a short list from the images supplied, but when you walk round the gallery that is thrown out of the window.
Colette Griffin Exhibitions & Visual Arts Assistant Nottingham Castle Museum & Art Gallery