In August 2022, three years after winning the 2019 Friends of Pataka Art Awards Creativity and Promise Scholarship, Porirua multimedia artist Emma Hercus has won the prestigious $20,000 National Contemporary Art Awards with a collage on MDF of an abstract masked figure with upraised hands entitled Red handed. Her prize in the 2019 Arts Awards was a six-month scholarship at The Learning Connexion, where she continues to study.
Radio New Zealand’s Lynn Freeman spoke to Hercus and to the judge, artist Reuben Paterson, who described the winning piece as “a celebration of adversity. It’s a character with their hands in the air – they are red hands and they’re almost fluorescent – and there’s all these mottled colours within the character’s body and … it was a super experimental piece which was kind of like an accident,” Hercus said.
“I was painting something else on linen on top of the MDF board and when I lifted it up I saw this person kind of appear with their hands up and I thought that was way more amazing than what I had painted on top.
“I want the viewer to look at it and make up a story as to what it means. But for me I wanted it to be a person who had no race, gender, sexual orientation, anything – a person who could represent anyone. The raising up of the hands could be in prayer, they could be being arrested or super happy or welcoming someone.”
Paterson said the artwork’s thoughtfulness “entrapped” him. “It just sort of seductively spoke so clearly about falling over but also rising up. That’s where the cleverness of the hands up comes in. It talks to being caught red handed and the character has this mask … but then the colours are so celebratory.
Paterson said there was a “real beauty” when an artist invited people to create a narrative for a character.”