Only in its seventh year, the Catlin Art Prize has rapidly built an impressive reputation as a vital springboard from which many of our young contemporary artists are launched. This annual award, which faithfully trawls the graduate show circuit at the end of each academic year, aims to celebrate the UK's most exciting graduate and postgraduate artists, and to "galvanise" their future careers.
The nine finalists are to be considered by an intriguing roster of judges: artist Dexter Dalwood, gallery director Ceri Hand and art collector Valeria Napoleone. Chosen from the Catlin Art Guide 2013 (a sleekly designed compendium of the "40 most promising new graduate artists in the UK") by curator Justin Hammond, they have each been commissioned to exhibit their work at Londonewcastle Project Space in East London. The nominated artists, selected from the Royal College of Art, the Slade, London College of Communication, Goldsmiths, Lancaster University and Central St Martins, have all been tipped by the judges to make a significant impact on the art world over the next decade.
However sceptical one may be, this is not just another art prize. In the ever-evolving round of residencies, prizes, funds and investitures that we have seen flood the contemporary art scene, from the lucrative bestowals of stoic foundations, to the flippy young prizes of numerous art journals, to the crop of generous awards eager to pluck the next big thing from their art school obscurity, one thing marks out the Catlin. It encourages the recent graduates to produce new work for the purpose, not only providing the financial means and the space in which to do so, but also setting out to act as a "platform for experimentation".
And perhaps the strongest works among those selected are those that remain loyal to this generative central tenet. Many of the pieces on display are themselves stagey; of note are Conall McAteer's pixelated steel barrels of videogame notoriety and Steven Allan's oil-on-canvas Dürer-esque figures, which – banana-like – peel away from plausibility as much as they peel at their own skins. Others are intensely staged: Bee Griffith's starkly poised and carefully-painted female nudes are as insentient as the stuffed animals they straddle and Nicky Deeley's marathon performance piece is as unwieldy and sprawling as the mixed-media stage for "Island Year" constructed here.
Yet, the problem with a platform, however, is that you need to project in order to be heard. In spite of all their meticulously arranged choreography, it is for this reason that the photographs offered by Juno Calypso, a London College of Communication graduate, really stand apart. Disenchanted, Reconstituted and Tired – as her titles recount – her work explores contemporary notions of femininity. Using herself as model – as her alter ego Joyce – her is face always obscured or covered, either by wigs, sliding chiffon or by an unsettling salmon pink plastic mask that is plugged into a strange dial device. Her deeply-worked sets create startlingly erotic panoramas – seedy in all their attention to texture, their fetish for colour and their centralization of a body bedecked with accessories as the setting itself.
The winner, to be announced at a private ceremony on the 22nd of May, will be awarded a £5000 prize, while the winner of the visitor's vote will be awarded a £2000 prize on the same night.