Absa L’Atelier | Last Year’s Winners



The Absa L’Atelier is South Africa’s most prestigious art competition. It rewards young artists between the ages of 21 and 35 with the opportunity to develop their talents abroad.  As the deadline for submissions draws near, we touch in with last year’s winners, Pauline Gutter, Jaco van Schalkwyk, Kathleen Sawyer and Mongezi Ncaphayi to find out what their experiences have been so far.



Pauline Gutter won the 2013 main Absa L’Atelier Award of R150 000 from Absa and is currently on residence at the Cite Internationale des Arts in Paris (part of the prize).


“My experience here in Paris is to a great extend a process of transformation, of discovering and rediscovering what cannot be explained in words. My interest at the moment is a gigantic International Agricultural salon that is currently running and there are a lot of ideas in the process of taking shape…


“Everything is just on a higher dimension and I feel that I’m in a place where I can utilize, engage and work on more experimental projects. It is wonderful to be surrounded by 320 other artists, writers, singers and musicians, all bounce ideas; a fuzzy collective energy…It is difficult to describe, it’s like Recreating the Gods.


“I am exploring a greater range of different mediums, but am focussed on video at the moment. I am also working on a project with the Finnish Choreographer Favela Vera Ortiz.”


Pauline’s advice to 2014 L’Atelier entrants:


“Make sure your work is cutting edge, unconventional and fresh. Give special attention to all the required fields outlined in the entry form. Make sure that your artwork is worked off and exhibition ready and your artist’s statement is checked by a professional.”





Jaco van Schalkwyk was awarded the 2013 Sylt Kunst: Raum merit award and will be travelling to Germany in April to go on residency where he looks forward to meeting other artists, musicians and writers from all over the world and being inspired by the new landscape and environment.


“Being awarded the Sylt Kunst: Raum merit award, as well as ABSA buying my artwork, has meant valuable recognition for me as a contemporary South African Artist and has certainly promoted my contemporary art career.


“I think that any young South African artist should continuously enter competitions like this, not only to be recognised, but also to be constantly visible on the art scene. I also found the advice of respectable mentors to be highly valuable in entering competitions like the L’Atelier. Even if you never win and constantly make it to the Top 100 finalists, your work will be exhibited in a highly respected gallery and documented in a catalogue. People will start noticing you.”


 Joca’s advice to 2014 L’Atelier entrants:


“Always make sure your work is professionally presented and compare the quality of your work to previous winners and finalists of the L’Atelier competition.”


Jaco recently had a very successful exhibition in Cape Town at the Barnard Gallery entitled “I, John, am the one who heard and saw these things”. He is also curating an upcoming exhibition “Odyssee: Swerftog met Alexis Preller”, that will be showcased at the ABSA KKNK in March.


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Kathleen Sawyer was awarded the Ampersand Foundation merit award and spent a month in New York.


“The residency was unspeakably wonderful. New York is unexpected in its cultural richness; the calibre and proliferation of its museums and galleries was overwhelming at times. Seeing so many independent artists working hard to better themselves and their art was a bit of a reminder of what it should be like. There was one tiny gallery near my apartment about the size of the handicapped stall in public bathrooms that a girl was running by herself in order to showcase her work. It was quite the reminder that one often needs to make things happen in one’s own life. I also ended up volunteering at The Centre for Book Arts, helping set up an exhibition and doing general administrative work. In return for the hours I put in they allowed me to take a free bookbinding course, which was greatly enjoyable. I’m hoping to put my mediocre skills to practice by perhaps making simple bindings to use in my own book arts.


“The best thing about winning the Merit Award was basically the validation that art can pay off, so to speak. In 2013 I was busy completing a year of teaching studies merely to act as the proverbial ‘something to fall back on’ and was dissatisfied with the lack of creative stimulation, as well as the workload which took time away from artmaking itself. Entering the L’Atelier and actually placing was unexpected and wonderful; it really renewed my passion and drive to make art. Often graduating creatives feel disillusioned at the lack of opportunities after leaving university and end up getting moderately interesting jobs; more or less leaving art behind. Competitions such as these are helpful in demonstrating that there is a chance to get one’s work ‘out there’ despite the difficulty.”


Kathleen’s advice to 2014 L’Atelier entrants:


“The L’Atelier provides enormous opportunity for young artists in a context where there is comparatively very little support for the arts. The art community is South Africa is rather small (especially after comparison to New York City), so large-scale competitions such as these provide the platform to make important connections. Even if an artist’s work is not selected, it is still being seen by influential people who will remember you if you continue submitting. Manage your work is an important part of being a professional artist, and opportunities like this make a substantial difference. To be honest, my work almost did not make it to the L’Atelier at all — I was preoccupied with my teaching course and forgot all about it. On the very day of the deadline I ran into my supervisor who offered to courier the work so that it would be there in time. Had it not been for that fortuitous accident things would have been quite different.”


Kathleen is busy working on a piece for the upcoming KKNK, as well as a triptych which uses werewolf ism as a metaphor for female puberty/’coming of age’.





Mongezi Ncaphayi won the Gerard Sekoto Award prize and will be off in September on his 3 month residency at Cite Internationale des Arts in Paris.


“The best thing about winning the award is winning the award itself considering its value and being recognized as a promising young emerging artist. I’ve learnt that working hard pays in the end, however, winning might come easy but staying at the top is hardest.


“I hope my experience will give me increased confidence in myself and my practice as an artist. I also would like to expand my creativity by allowing myself to be influenced by different peoples’ work and the artistic culture in Paris.”


Mongezi’s advice to 2014 L’Atelier entrants:


“Artists should keep it real by being true to themselves and their practice… It is good to be influenced by established artists and to draw from their style, however, the best thing is to develop your own language/voice as these competitions are looking for just that. You should also remember to never ever give up even if you don’t get through to the top 100; you just have to keep on pushing boundaries and believing in yourself.”



Great art takes blood, sweat and tears. 


Entries to the 2014 Absa L’Atelier competition close on Friday 7 March. Only online entries submitted will be accepted. Click here for more info.


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