Jerwood Visual Arts, London

Jerwood Drawing Prize 2013: The winning picture by Svetlana Fialova is a canny but misguided choice

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Apocalypse (My Boyfriend Doesn’t Care) (2013) by Slovakian artist Svetlana Fialova, 28, has been announced as this year’s winner of the biggest drawing prize in the UK. It is a canny but misguided choice.

The large drawing depicts Fialova’s boyfriend chewing gum and wearing a sweatshirt adorned with palm trees. He is surrounded by details from Albrecht Dürer’s Apocalypse woodcuts, including horsemen and angels. The image is clean and graphic with touches of pink and turquoise as well as black. It is nowhere near as compelling as some of the other works shortlisted.

The judges – including YBA doyen Michael Craig-Martin – have given the £8,000 prize money to a work that is traditional in form but contemporary in subject matter. It encompasses both old and new. Rather than deploy digital fireworks, Fialova draws with ink on paper. She is inspired by TV and magazines. There is nothing particularly arresting about the image – it looks like an illustration from a fashion blog.

Overall, the exhibition is elegant and balanced, but quite conservative. The boundaries of the medium are pushed – but not too much. The huge impact of technology on drawing is neither shunned nor overhyped.

There are 76 shortlisted works on display out of a total of 3,082 entries. Some are fantastic. Roy Eastland’s They looked like silver birds… (2012) is a stunning montage of those killed in the 1917 German air-raid on Folkestone. Portraits in silverpoint are accompanied by moving biographical detail. Isobel Wilson, 80, for example, “was in the queue for potatoes when the bomb exploded.” Eastland makes you search for clues so that the narrative is unfolded through the act of looking.  

Bitch (2013) by Catherine Linton is another exceptional work. A recorded voice whispers an elliptical poem about dogs (“...at your feet I lay…”), while a faint pencil animation plays on a screen of yellow notepaper on the back wall of a tiny wooden cage. You have to look through the bars to see: a young woman wearing a muzzle, running. The feminist allusions are powerful and delicate at once.

Can cutting open an envelope with a scalpel be classified as drawing? Apparently so. Important, Act Now (2013) by Lindsay Connors is an envelope from the Inland Revenue on which those ominous words are printed. This is conceptualism at its best: succinct and funny without being cynical. Any of these three artists would have been deserving winners.

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