Banner image: Jason with his 'Brave Billy Boy' sculpture, credit Photomoments. 

2020's Adam Reynolds Awardee, Jason Wilsher-Mills, reflects on what the prize means to him during an otherwise uncertain time.

Right now, when life has changed so much and we are so frightened and unsure about the future, feels like the right time to reflect on the most amazing and positive thing that has ever happened to me: being awarded the Adam Reynolds Award 2020

To give some context as to why this award has been so important I want to give a very shortened version of my artistic biography.

I trained as a traditional oil painter, doing my degree at Cardiff in the early 1990s, and then went into teaching and then management. I thought I had ‘missed the boat’ of being an artist, as I had been caught up in the mainstream, focusing my ambitions on going up the educational management ladder. Then, in 2004, my life changed when I became disabled.

A collage of photographs of the Totem figure of a female character wearing braces on her legs Jason created for Hull. Some of the images have Jason smiling with the totem in, too.

Unable to continue working, it was at this time that I had what I call my ‘Hagrid moment,’ when an artist friend pointed out, quite vehemently, that I did not have to be a manager to make a living, and that I should do the thing I was trained to do. In other words,  ‘You are an artist Jason!’

I was in a bad way, so decided to be an early adopter of technology, as it was the only way I could effectively create art because of my disability.

Being the Adam Reynolds Awardee is the biggest thing that has ever happened to me

My life changed very quickly; the art was just pouring out of me into the iPad. Within months I was showing my work in America.

It was at this time, right at the beginning of my career as an artist, that I first became aware of Shape Arts, and they were there for me, right at the beginning, and have been ‘there’ for me ever since. From showing my first piece of art in the Shape Open in 2011, to having the amazing opportunity to create work for the Museum of Islamic Art, in Doha, Qatar

They have been there for me in the good times, and also when I needed advice, help, and support in the ‘not so good’ times. 

A large inflatable sculpture of a character made by Jason with neon lights around the edges

Simply put, I cannot thank them enough for their support. 

Being the Adam Reynolds Awardee is the biggest thing that has ever happened to me, and even with the fear and disruption that COVID-19 has caused, it is the thing that keeps me going, because throughout the lockdown I am making art for the Folkestone Triennial 2020 (which will now take place in 2021) as part of the Adam Reynolds Award. One of my main focusses right now is expanding my digital horizons and connecting with people - and connecting up others - through new technology. So keep a look out - I may be popping up unexpectedly here and there.

It is fitting that the art I am creating for this commission records my life as a disabled person, and my journey as an artist, and serves as a tribute to Shape Arts.

You can read more from Jason in this blog from Tate on Art in Isolation.

Image credits: Jason and his Hull Totem (first in text) PhotoMoments (c). Jason's inflatable Pagan Sculpture (bottom) Jason Wilsher-Mills (c).