Veronica Ryan, an artist who created the UK’s first permanent artwork to honour the Windrush generation, has won the 2022 Turner prize, one of the world’s most prestigious awards for visual arts.
Ryan, 66, becomes the oldest artist to win the prize. She was nominated for the Windrush sculpture, which was unveiled in Hackney, London, last year, as well as for her solo exhibition Along a Spectrum at Spike Island, Bristol.
Ryan – who received an OBE last year – was born in Plymouth, Montserrat and came to the UK as a child in the 1950s. She creates sculptural objects and installations using containers, compartments, and combinations of natural and fabricated forms to reference themes such as displacement, fragmentation, alienation and loss.
The jury awarded the prize to Ryan for the “personal and poetic way she extends the language of sculpture”. They also praised the noticeable shift in her use of space, colour and scale both in gallery and civic spaces.
Collecting the award, Ryan thanked her family. “Thank you so much,” she said. “I’m wearing my dad’s hat, my dad would be so pleased he called me big eyes when I was little. That’s fabulous. Thank you mummy and daddy. All my family. My family are here. My siblings.
“And to my siblings that didn’t survive. And I’m going to name them: Patricia, Josephine, David. They were fantastic people. And I think they’re looking at us right now. And they’re proud. And I want to thank everybody.
“I have a few people who in my career have looked out for me, when I wasn’t visible. When I collected rubbish. I collected rubbish for a number of years. But actually, some of the rubbish is some of the most important works I think.
“Thank you to the other artists. It’s a fantastic installation. We’ve all – everyone has made fantastic work. I just want to say thank you to everyone this is wonderful.”
Alex Farquharson, director of Tate Britain and co-chair of the jury, said Ryan was “a sculptor taking the language of sculpture and extending it in new directions”. “She has a long career going back to the 80s and it’s interesting to see that evolution but also this flourishing now,” he added.
Farquharson said the jury was really impressed with the turns Ryan’s work had taken in the last couple of years and paid tribute to the “subtle poetics” in her work.
“It’s slow-burn work. What becomes evident is this elusive treatment of themes of survival, care and she’s even used the word trauma. The valuing of things, the remembering of things. It’s about nature and lived experience,” he said.
He spoke of the significance of the prize returning to Liverpool: “It’s really important for the city. With the pandemic, with economic downtowns, Liverpool has gone through a lot of social and economic challenges these last few years. Bringing the Turner prize here is a mark of optimism and regeneration.”
The winner of the £25,000 prize was announced by musician Holly Johnson at a ceremony at Liverpool’s St George’s Hall on Wednesday night. Established in 1984 and named after the radical British painter JMW Turner, it aims to promote public debate around new developments in contemporary British art.
Ryan’s Windrush commission consisted of three sculptures of Caribbean fruits – Custard Apple (Annonaceae), Breadfruit (Moraceae) and Soursop (Annonaceae) – made in bronze and marble. The artist used seeds as a metaphor for propagation and for the spread of viruses and pandemics.
When nominating her, the jury also praised the “exquisite sensuality and tactility” of Along a Spectrum, which explores ecology, history and dislocation, as well as the psychological impact of the pandemic.
While the four artists nominated this year were from different generations and use varying media including photography, sculpture, moving image, installation, performance, sound and the spoken word, they are connected by a number of thematic crossovers including identity, migration and a sense of place. “All have pushed the boundaries of material exploration through unravelling the complexities of body, nature and identity,” the jury said.
The other shortlisted artists – who each received £10,000 – included Ingrid Pollard, who left Guyana for the UK when she was four. Pollard, now 69, was nominated for her solo exhibition Carbon Slowly Turning at MK Gallery in Milton Keynes. Using primarily photography but also sculpture, film and sound, her work questions our relationship with the natural world and interrogates ideas such as Britishness, race and sexuality.
Heather Phillipson, 44, was nominated for her solo exhibition Rupture No 1: Blowtorching the Bitten Peach at Tate Britain as well as The End, her fourth-plinth sculpture in Trafalgar Square featuring a dollop of whipped cream topped with a cherry, a drone and a fly. Her practice involves collisions of different materials, media and gestures in what she calls “quantum thought experiments”.
Canadian artist Sin Wai Kin was nominated for their involvement in the British Art Show 9 and solo presentation at Blindspot Gallery at the Frieze London art fair. They tell stories through performance, moving image, writing, and print.
This year was the first time the exhibition and ceremony returned to Liverpool since 2007, when Tate Liverpool became the first gallery outside London to host it – helping launch Liverpool’s year as European Capital of Culture.
The members of the 2022 jury were Irene Aristizábal, head of curatorial and public practice at Baltic; Christine Eyene, lecturer in contemporary art at Liverpool John Moores University; Robert Leckie, director of Spike Island; and Anthony Spira, director of MK Gallery. The jury was co-chaired by Farquharson and Helen Legg, director of Tate Liverpool.
Last year’s Turner prize was awarded to the Array Collective, a group of 11 artists from across the sectarian divide in Northern Ireland. The 2020 Turner prize was suspended because of the Covid pandemic.