The first winners of the annual John Richardson French Residency Award by Hambly & Hambly have now been announced, with two visual and one musical artist selected from hundreds of entries.

The three winners, who will partake in the French Residency in Dampierre-sur-Boutonne from April 27 to May 11 this year, are visual artists Katarzyna Gajewska and Gary Robinson and musical artist Clara Tracey.

Artwork by Katarzyna Gajewska.

Artwork by Katarzyna Gajewska.

Calling being selected as one of the winners “a blessing”, Katarzyna said: “Little did I know when I applied for the French Residency Award in July that I could be accepted. After long months of isolation, such an opportunity is a blessing and the best gift I could imagine.

“I am so immensely grateful and it’s impossible to describe my gratitude without sounding hyperbolic, but it’s all true and great news came just when I felt how much I yearn to reconnect my practice in a different environment than my everyday studio.

“I feel that within the combination of solitude, interaction with fellow artists and advantage from mentorship, I could find tenderness, joy and inspiration and deeply focus on my practice.

“I also feel that the best part of the prize is the caring attitude and warm atmosphere the director, Ciara Hambly, is providing,” she added.

Artwork by Gary Robinson.

Artwork by Gary Robinson.

Commenting that he is “extremely grateful” to have been selected to attend the French Residency, Gary Robinson said: “It’s a great opportunity to work with Ciara, Eamon and to be in the company of Katarzyna Gajewska and Clara Tracey. The residency will give me time to consider current work and to develop new ideas.”

Clara Tracey.

Clara Tracey.

Clara Tracey also noted how “excited” she is to partake in the residency with the two other artists. She said: “I was thrilled to be on the shortlist with such a talented cohort of artists and still can’t believe I’m one of the lucky ones taking part. I am deeply grateful to Ciara, Eamon and all the judges.

“Kat, Gary and I have a few introductory chats since we heard the good news and I’m really excited to get to know them and see what this French adventure inspires.”

Katarzyna, Gary and Clara will be joined by residency founder and director Ciara Hambly, who owns Hambly & Hambly with her husband Nick, and artist Eamon Colman, who will provide mentorship throughout the residency.

Eamon Coleman, artist and mentor for the residency.

Eamon Coleman, artist and mentor for the residency.

Eamon has been a member of Aostana since 2007. In 2020, he was awarded artist of the year by Art and Museum UK.

His involvement with the John Richardson French Residency Award has been a way of paying back all the support he experienced as a young artist.

He hopes that by giving support to these artists, he will help them build their support network. A solo exhibition for Eamon will open on the second weekend of the residency at the Château in Dampierre-sur-Boutonne, the village in which the residency is situated.

An established centre

The Château is an established centre for exhibitions of visual art and also for music and literature.

Talking to The Impartial Reporter about the origins of the John Richardson French Residency, Ciara said: “Last year [2020], when we were in lockdown, my dad, John Richardson passed away in April, 2020.

“Some time later, his and my mum’s house in Portugal sold and we decided that we would like to buy a house in France.

John Richardson Residency.

John Richardson Residency.

"We didn’t buy the house with a view to doing the artist residency, but very quickly after we agreed the purchase of the house, we did see that there was potential for residencies for artists and we thought that because we purchased the house with funds we received from my late father, we thought it would be a lovely way of keeping his name alive to do the residency in his name.

“I think he would really approve of it,” she told this newspaper.

Last summer, Ciara put a callout for submissions for the French residency.

“We had hundreds and hundreds of submissions for the residency award. It was received much more warmly and with much more enthusiasm than I had anticipated, I think because it is an international initiative and there’s very few international opportunities for artists in the North and South of Ireland,” said Ciara, noting how they received submissions from almost 1,000 applicants, which she personally shortlisted to 40 finalists.

The three winning entries were then selected by a panel of 10 judges, featuring Eamon Colman, Wolfgang Buttress, Suzanne Garuda, Carlo Gebler, Rory Pierce, Wendy York, Rita Duffy, Andrew Irwin, Noelle McAlinden and head judge, Nora Hickey M’Sichili, the Director of Centre Culturel Irlandais in Paris.

“It was great to have her on board as it gave us a bit of kudos and an established link in France,” said Ciara, of Nora’s involvement.

“Then we set up the physical exhibition and a lot of the judges visited the exhibition. Hambly & Hambly had no part in the selection of the three winning artists. That was down to the panel of the 10 judges.

“It did come down to a very narrow vote between a couple of visual artists in the end. Nora, as the head judge, had the final casting vote,” she said.

Taking place this spring/summer, Ciara explained that the residency will be “very strongly led by the artists”.

“The only stipulation that we have put in place is that as a group, the three artists, mentor and I will eat together, we’ll always have dinner together and that will be an opportunity for us to discuss the direction that the artists are going in over the residency, in terms of their inspirations, their experiences and what they are hoping to create.

“Eamon will be on tap as their mentor to advise them on their artistic practise and I will be there as a kind of business person, because this is very much the start of their relationship with us, and we’ll be taking it very seriously how we will represent them after the residency, how we can give them international representation.”

Going forward, the John Richardson French Residency Award will be an annual event, with applications opening for next year’s residency at the end of May. The deadline for submissions will be July 31.

“[It is] open to every type of artist; visual, performing artist and writers,” said Ciara, noting that the only criteria that was given to the judges of this year’s residency award was that two of the winners could be visual artists, but the third artist must be either musical, literary or performance.

“We want to represent various art forms,” she added.

Acknowledging the quality of the work submitted for this year’s residency award, Ciara is welcoming submissions again from people who applied this year.

“The calibre of the work was beyond anything we expected – it was really, really strong,” she told this newspaper.