IS THIS ART? YOU'RE THE JUDGE

THE INDEPENDENT ON SUNDAY'S CHOICE COMPETITION: Over the next four pages, you will find the 11 finalists in Britain's most valuable art prize. Study them carefully, and decide which one you think best deserves to win - and if the Independent on Sunday's panel of experts agree, you could win pounds 1,000 to spend on art plus a share of a further pounds 11,000 in prizes. Genevieve Francon reveals the finalists
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The Independent Culture
A COUPLE of years ago, if you started talking about "Young British Artists", everyone knew what was meant. It meant dead sheep, and sharks in tanks, and scruffy, vaguely sculptural installation thingies with prankishly obscene words on the labels alongside. It meant greasy-haired London thirtysomethings larging it on lager in trendy restaurants. It meant, in short, the quick-hyped and pan-flashed fin-de-siecle conceptualism of Sarah Lucas and Tracey Emin, of Gary Hume and Damien Hirst.

But not any more it doesn't. For there is another tradition of Young British Artists which is quieter, more thoughtful, and an awful lot more pleasing to look at: more painterly, in a word. It is this tradition which is represented on the following pages, on which we show work by the 11 finalists of this year's NatWest Art Prize. These artists have chosen in their work to go back to the basics of their medium: to light and colour, surface and edges, volume and mass. Some, like Sybille Berger (above) or Callum Innes (overleaf), are working with abstract forms, empty of all but geometrical reference: vibrantly layered stripes, crisply interlocking greenish blocks. But even the more apparently pop-figurative works - like those of Luke Caulfield (page 38) or Nicky Hoberman (overleaf) - combine an unusually fresh palette with a genuine depth of feeling.

Now in its seventh year, the NatWest Art Prize - awarded annually to a painter under the age of 35 - is the most lucrative British art award there is. The first prize is pounds 26,000, with 10 runners-up receiving pounds 1,000 each. Unlike the Turner Prize, selection is from slides and paintings only; sculptors and installation artistes need not apply. And unlike the John Moores, the NatWest Prize is awarded to an artist in recognition of an outstanding group of five works, rather than to a single piece. It is impossible to overestimate the importance of such awards to the working artist. Without the publicity, the opportunities to exhibit in front of big audiences, the occasional fillips of prize- money they offer, life in the garret would be even bleaker than it is.

! Selected works of art by all 11 of the NatWest Prize finalists can be seen for free at the Lothbury Gallery, EC2 (0171 726 1642) to 28 August; the overall prize-winner will be announced by Chris Smith, Culture Minister, on 16 June.

ALAN BROOKS (below) 'Untitled' (1997)

Born in 1965; studied at Jacob Kramer College of Art in Leeds, Reading University and the Slade, London. He has already had two solo shows in London, at the Wet Paint Gallery (1994) and the Marlene Eleini (1998)

JEFF GIBBONS (far left) 'A Balcony in Port Grimaud' (1996)

Born in 1962; studied at Ravensbourne College of Art, Middlesex Polytechnic and London University. He was a John Moores 19 prizewinner, and a NatWest Prize runner-up in 1997

ALEXIS HARDING (right) Detail from 'Untitled (Split)' (1997)

Born in 1973; studied at Goldsmiths College, London. His first solo London show will be at the Andrew Mummery Gallery later this year

SUE ARROWSMITH (left) 'Zip' (1997)

Born in 1968 in Denton, Manchester; studied Textiles at Goldsmiths College. She has had two solo shows with Entwistle in London, and was a John Moores 20 co-prizewinner in 1997

CALLUM INNES (above) 'Exposed Painting, Olive Green' (1997)

Born in Edinburgh in 1962; studied in Aberdeen and Edinburgh. He exhibits regularly at the Frith Street Gallery and was on the Turner Prize shortlist in 1995 TACITA DEAN (right) 'Sea Inventory Drawings - Opening Swell' (1998)

Born in 1965; studied in Falmouth, Athens, and at the Slade in London. Solo shows include two runs at the Frith Street Gallery, London and sound works in the ART NOW room at the Tate

ALEXANDRA BARAITSER 'Fragola (Winged)', 1997

Born in 1971; studied at Central St Martin's, Wimbledon and Chelsea College of Art. She has a one-person show coming up at the Cable Street Gallery in London next year

LUKE CAULFIELD 'Snap On Silver Event' (1997)

Born in London in 1969; studied Drama and Classics, worked at the National Theatre and in 1996 began a BA at the Slade, where he is still a student. In 1996, the school awarded him the William Coldstream Painting Prize

Now you've seen examples of work from all 11 finalists, you have the chance to win your share of pounds 12,000 in prizes. First, vote for the artist you consider most likely to be picked by an expert panel as 'The Independent on Sunday's Choice' by ticking the relevant box on the tear- out entry form in the centre pages, completing the tie-breaker sentence, and posting the entry form to us. The reader who votes for the IoS's Choice and completes the tie-breaker in the most apt and wittiest way will win a first prize of pounds 1,000 to spend on British contemporary art and a pounds 3,000 NatWest Millennium Bond (see below); four runners-up will each receive prizes of pounds 2,000 NatWest Millennium Bonds

Competition rules, terms and conditions

1 All entries must be legible, made on the official competition entry form (not a photocopy), and arrive at the address on the entry form no later than Monday 8 June 1998. Proof of posting will not be taken as proof of delivery and no responsibility will be taken for lost or damaged entries.

2 Entrants must be aged 18 or over and only one entry per entrant is permitted.

3 One of the artists on the NatWest Art Prize shortlist will be nominated by a panel consisting of the editor of the Sunday Review and the Independent on Sunday's art critic as 'The Independent on Sunday's Choice'. The five winners will be chosen from those readers who voted for the IoS Choice, on the basis of who, in the editor's opinion, has completed the tie-break sentence in the most apt way. Winners will be notified by post.

4 First prize: pounds 1,000 to spend on British contemporary art and a pounds 3,000 NatWest Millennium Bond. Four runners-up: a pounds 2,000 NatWest Millennium Bond each. Each Millennium Bond is subject to identity and security checks and NatWest standard terms and conditions which can be obtained from any NatWest branch.

5 The winner of the first prize will choose, by Tuesday 23 June 1998, one or more items of contemporary British art currently on sale in the United Kingdom, with the guidance of the NatWest Group Art Collection Curator. NatWest will then pay the price of the item(s) chosen direct to the artist or his/her dealer, up to the value of pounds 1,000 including VAT. If the cost of the item(s) chosen is less than pounds 1,000, no cash alternative can be taken for the balance. All expenses incurred by the winner in the process of choosing the art are the winner's sole responsibility. The form of guidance given by the curator will be at the curator's discretion, and the curator accepts no responsibity for the winner's final choice.

6 The editor's decision on any matter relating to the competition is final. He reserves the right to veto the winner's choice of art.

7 Employees of either National Westminster Bank Plc or Independent Newspapers Group, their agents and members of their families are not eligible to enter.

8 If Millennium Bond winners are not NatWest account holders, a NatWest instant access reserve or current account will need to be opened.

9 Any tax implications which may arise due to winning a Millennium Bond shall be the sole responsibility of the winner.

10 For the Millennium Bond to achieve a guaranteed interest rate, no withdrawals can be made during the term of the bond.

11 Winners' names may be published in the Independent or Independent on Sunday.

12 No purchase necessary. To obtain an official entry form, send an SAE to: Independent Newspapers Group, Marketing Department, 1 Canada Square, Canary Wharf, London E14 5DL.

13 This competition is held by Independent Newspapers Group.

14 Entry implies acceptance of these rules, terms and conditions.

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