Belfast Telegraph

By George! Late singer inspires Co Down artist's winning work

Rathfriland artist Grace McMurray won the Arts Club Award at the Royal Academy of Arts Summer Exhibition in London
Rathfriland artist Grace McMurray won the Arts Club Award at the Royal Academy of Arts Summer Exhibition in London
Pop duo Wham! George Michael and Andrew Ridgeley
George Michael
Artwork: The piece
Mark Bain

By Mark Bain

Inspired by the music of the late George Michael, a Northern Ireland artist's work has been honoured at the oldest and most prestigious open art exhibition in the world.

This is the pinnacle of Co Down artist Grace McMurray's career so far and the 33-year-old said she was overjoyed to even be selected alongside famous names like Banksy and Tracey Emin at the 2019 Royal Academy of Arts Summer Exhibition in London.

Now, after walking away with the Arts Club Award, presented each year to an artist aged 35 or under for a work in any medium except architecture, Grace is hoping to push on to even more success.

"It was a great experience," said Grace from Rathfriland and a former pupil of Banbridge Academy.

"I'm just glad I was in a position to represent young artists from Northern Ireland who are producing some wonderful conceptual artwork.

"It's a great honour to be recognised by such a prestigious exhibition. This is the second year I had applied and there were over 16,000 applications, so to have been selected in the first place was amazing, and now to have been selected for a prize is even better.

"There were around 1,600 pieces of work in the exhibition, so it's not an easy thing to get involved in," she said.

"Hopefully it will open a lot more doors for me in the future."

Grace's piece is made of gradients of blue glitter ribbon woven in three different directions to form a pattern that looks three-dimensional.

She added: "I had an idea of the piece I wanted to create, and while I was doing it I was listening to George Michael's music, and watching documentaries about his life and what he had to go through. I went with the flow. That inspired me and I'm delighted with what I created in the end.

"Most of my work is inspired by my thoughts and emotions at the time of creating.

"I didn't start out to make it about George Michael, but listening to his music and watching documentaries about his life and the prejudice he faced developed it.

"It took around two months of intensive work to finish. It took on a life of its own, and considering the George Michael influence I felt, it was right to call it after him.

"It seems to have struck a chord with the Royal College of Art. It's a personal reflection of my thoughts and ideas at the time I was working on it and it's great to have others who have been in the industry for years appreciate that.

"I like to play with the material, create 3D images which are attractive to the eye.

"With 'George Michael', I wanted to make something that was joyful and modern, and I feel that this award shows that it has translated."

Grace's work sold for £1,500.

"It's quite a rush to see the 'sold' sign go up on something you've created," she said.

"That's the recognition you want, but considering the cost of travelling back and forward to London several times, plus the entry fee for the exhibition, you don't make a lot of money from something like this. It's in the future, with that experience behind you, where you can hopefully build on the success."

Gracing the halls at the Royal Academy of Art Summer Exhibition is seen as the holy grail for aspiring young artists since it began in 1769.

"It's a long way from my days at Banbridge Academy. I'd be walking around all messy with paint over my blazer. I was always 'the girl who did art'.

"I just liked being creative and I think it's important for young people to have an outlet for their emotions. Mine happens to be through my artwork."

Grace graduated in fine art sculpture from Wimbledon College of Art in London in 2008 and her time is spent living between Rathfriland and Belfast.

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