Sabrina’s ‘Bucket List’ painting wins the inaugural Castlegate Prize – and £10,000

Cumbrian gallery’s national art competition raises £12,000 for YoungMinds charity
The winning entry ‘Bucket List’ by Sabrina Shah

Judges for a £10,000 national art prize launched by a Cumbrian gallery have chosen a “exciting, energetic and contemporary” painting by Royal College of Art student Sabrina Shah as their first winner.

‘Bucket List’ was the unanimous winner from the 29 finalists now being exhibited at Castlegate House Gallery in Cockermouth.

Announcing the winner yesterday [Sat Sept 12], gallery owner and judge Steve Swallow said: “Sabrina’s winning entry undeniably forms part of a painting revival within British contemporary art. It has the energy and striking use of colour that means you can’t help but stop and look; some will love it and some will not, that’s what art is all about, there’s no right nor wrong, but as a panel we loved it.”

Fellow judge, British contemporary painter and printmaker Eileen Cooper RA, OBE, said: “There were four or five works that I would have been very happy to have seen win, but Sabrina’s painting feels like a really exciting choice for the inaugural competition. For me it was an optimistic choice, a real vote for the future.”

Lake District-based Martin Greenland said each of half a dozen possible winners had its own, very strong identity, but the clear winner emerged. “It might be said that the winner is ‘challenging’, which is rather an easy, contemporary response,” he said. “It is provocative but it is also very singularly-minded and there is a joy in its creation and dare I say, a love.”

Winning artist, Sabrina Shah

Sabrina Shah, 34, grew up in Worcestershire and is studying for an MA at London’s Royal College of Art, said: “I never expected to win because of all the great quality work of the other entrants. It’s very overwhelming, and I’m still coming to terms with what it means. Perhaps the prize money will allow me to focus even more on my painting.”

The West London-based artist said Bucket List was about “consumerism, expulsion, ingestion and the freedom and courage to act, think and respond.

“It could be interpreted as it’s a ‘bucket of lists’, so in a way someone being sick on a bucket full of lists is a bit like – just go for it. It’s a raw feeling, sometimes you just need to act, and stick two fingers up to that list to move forwards – but maybe not with the original plan.

“It means a huge amount to me to support the prize’s cause of YoungMinds,” she added. “The cause of young people and mental health is an topic I feel particularly close to, especially during these times. It really is something that needs to be nourished and nurtured.”

Also awarded a special prize of £1,000 was young animator Sorrel Milne, who submitted a two-minute animation I Am Here featuring the voices of four women sharing their experience of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

“Whilst Sorrel didn’t meet the criteria of the competition,” said Steve, “her video on the effects of PTSD so struck the judges with its informal yet thought provoking production and narrative, that it was felt a special award was warranted to recognise the importance of what Sorrel has produced and its direct link to one of the key drivers of creation of The Castlegate Prize – to raise the profile of and assist those dealing with mental health issues.”

Steve and Christine Swallow at Castlegate House Gallery

The Castlegate Prize was launched last November by Castlegate House Gallery and drew more than 700 entries from all over the country – raising more than £12,000 for mental health charity YoungMinds in the process. Works had to take the word ‘Hope’ as their inspiration.

The competition was unique for a major national art prize in that artists’ entry fees went straight to the charity rather than on running and funding the prize.

Gallery co-owner Christine Swallow said: “It was fabulous to raise not only £12,000 for YoungMinds, but helping to raise the profile of such an important, relatively small charity in national terms has been key to why we decided to launch The Castlegate Prize in the first place.”

Tom Madders, Director of Communications and Campaigns Development at YoungMinds, said: “We are thrilled that £12,000 has been raised from the Castlegate Prize and extremely grateful to the Castlegate House Gallery for choosing us as their charity partner.

“It is amazing that so many artists from across the UK responded and took such pride in interpreting the theme of the prize. This kind donation will go towards our vital work fighting for the mental health of children and young people in Cumbria and the North East and across the UK.”

The prizegiving and exhibition opening event had originally been planned for May 2 but was postponed to September 12 because of the Covid pandemic. A presentation event was still not possible, but the gallery has reopened to the public and up to four visitors at a time will be able to view the Castlegate Prize exhibition Thursday to Saturday until October 3.

Three Cumbrian artists are among the finalists – with works by Kendal-based portrait artist Catherine MacDiarmid, Ennerdale-based war artist and landscape painter Kevin Weaver, and Levens-based artist Libby Edmondson.

Writer, broadcaster and journalist Stuart Maconie said he was delighted and flattered to be asked to help judge the inaugural Castlegate Prize.

“The finalists now on show at Castlegate are dizzyingly diverse and yet of uniformly high standard,” he said.

“They range from the playful to the scary, from sheer abstraction to photographic realism, from the romantic to the journalistic, the allegorical to the visceral. Everyone on the list should be proud of their work.”

Reflecting on the first Castlegate Prize, which will be held every two years, Steve Swallow said: “”We always knew it was an ambitious project, a new national art prize from scratch, so the level of work and organisation hasn’t really surprised us, but just how much we’ve enjoyed the entire experience has; it certainly sets us up well for the next incarnation in 2022.

“This started with an idea one evening in 2018 over a bottle of wine; I think we’ll sit back and review it when the dust has settled in the exact same manner, planning for the next prize in 2022.”

*To see the 29 Castlegate Prize finalists online go to The winning announcement video can be viewed there, as well as a 3D virtual tour of the finalists exhibition for those who are unable to visit.

Arts – Cumbria Crack