Aesthetica Art Prize 2016: Sandra Wadkin, They Came By Sea, Longlisted Artist

Self-taught artist Sandra Wadkin has always taken an abstract approach to her paintings, which she claims may at first glance seem to follow the tradition of Op Art. However, once we break down the multiple layers of line, pattern and marks that make up Wadkin’s abstract landscapes, we find compositions that subtly evoke cultural and political metaphors, which have been removed from any literal form of context. Her work therefore comes to symbolise specific aspects of cultural histories, diaspora, memory and, perhaps most importantly, the construction of identity.

Longlisted for the Aesthetica Art Prize 2016, They Came By Sea investigates the relationship between, in the artist’s words, “a physical skin scratched away to reveal its truth or underside”, and the “displacement of people through history”, which is perhaps especially relevant today. Wadkin’s recurrent themes of identity and time come heavily into play here. The dark colours in the piece are designed to evoke the sea, and remind us of the discourse that surrounds cultural difference. Its conceit however is that any semblance of reality it has is actually an illusion. Like the fringes of a dream, identity and time seem briefly to be tangible, but ultimately are forever out of reach.

Previous finalists include John Keane, former official British war artist, currently represented by Flowers Gallery in London; Ingrid Hu, former designer at the Lubetkin-winning Heatherwick Studio; Marcus Jansen, a leading modern expressionist; and Bernat Millet, shortlisted for National Portrait Gallery’s Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize. We’re now open for entries for next year’s award. Prizes include up to £5,000 prize money courtesy of Hiscox, editorial coverage in Aesthetica Magazine, and a group exhibition.

The Aesthetica Art Prize 2016 Exhibition will be open from 14 April – 29 May, Wednesdays to Sundays, 12pm to 4pm, at York St Mary’s, Castlegate, York, YO1 9RN.

See more of Wadkin’s work:

Deadline for submissions is 31 August. To enter, visit

1. Sandra Wadkin, They Came By Sea, 2015.