Awards Time: thoughts on the Northern Art Prize and South Bank Sky Arts Awards

Last week, this year's Northern Art Prize (which I wrote about here last year) was awarded to Haroon Mirza. This annual prize goes to a professional artist of any age, working in any medium living in the north of England. Although perhaps the best known artist on the shortlist, Mirza was maybe also something of an unexpected winner, having, as you might say, 'a foot in both camps' both geographically (working in Sheffield and in London) and as an artist working predominantly with sound and music. Sound art is clearly experiencing something of a boom at the moment, with Susan Philipzs's beautiful installation Lowlands triumphing in the Turner Prize; yet interestingly, Mirza himself is clearly keen to avoid simple pigeonholing.  Rather than being described as either a 'sound artist' or a 'visual artist', he places himself somewhere in between, perhaps recognising that the spaces between are often the most interesting places to be.

This week brings us to the announcement of the South Bank Sky Arts Awards, which have a much wider remit: to recognise the best of British talent right across the arts, from classical music to comedy, opera to TV drama. There are some great names up for these awards, including a pleasingly unexpected all-female shortlist in the visual arts category, in which heavyweights Tacita Dean and Angela de la Cruz appear alongside newcomer Josephine King, who held her first exhibition of powerful, technicolour portraits of her battle with bi-polar disorder only last September. It's fantastic to see King on this list, as all too often it's the same old big name artists who attract all the glossy accolades. But perhaps, as with the Turner and the NAP, the visual arts world is moving away from the days where one particular style or trend dominated, and towards a future in which we can recognise and celebrate the rich diversity and variety of contemporary visual art.

With this in mind, if I were able to pick up my contemporary art magic wand this week (and goodness knows what that would look like!) I'd be bestowing a South Bank Sky Arts Award on some of our slightly less well-known contemporary visual artists, such as Charles Avery or Olivia Plender, Rachel Goodyear or Ryan Gander. And in the meantime, although Dean and de la Cruz are certainly deserving, I'll be crossing my fingers on Tuesday night for Josephine King.

[Image: Haroon Mirza, Birds of Pray 2010; mixed media, via Northern Art Prize]