Texaco Children’s Art Competition

Derry~Londonderry's Gordon Gallery hosts a stunning exhibition of art works by 126 young people

More than 50,000 young people from across the island of Ireland entered this year’s Texaco Children’s Art Competition. Out of those 50,000, just 126 were selected, either as prize winners across the seven categories, or as winners of the special merit award.

Until June 29, these 126 successful entries can be seen at the Gordon Gallery, on Pump Street in Derry~Londonderry. It is an exhibition not to be missed. It is choke full of truth, fun, heart and talent.

The competition rules were simple. Nothing smaller than A4; nothing bigger than A2. Any medium, including digital format. And the entry could be about any subject that might be of interest to the artist.

The subject matter tends to fall within certain categories – portraits, animals, still lives. The vast majority of the entries are either in pencil or paint, although there is one incredibly detailed and meticulous piece done in biro by Greg Shevlin, of Bangor. Entitled 'Great Architecture', it appears to be of Belfast City Hall, and is a wonder of skill and patience.

Great Architecture


The standard is consistently high. Some of the pieces on display are outstanding. Bryony Flatman has produced a work entitled 'April Showers', depicting commuters waiting for their bus. It is full of colour and movement, vibrancy and excitement. She has perfectly captured the gleam, light, and sheen of a city.

'Wild Poppies', by Caroline Roche, shows four flowers in a field. Two are yellow, one is red, and one is yet to flower. It is an elegant, dark painting, beautifully blending blues, greens and maroons. Ella Mongey’s 'Granny’s House', meanwhile, depicts a magical, moonlit patchwork of fields. It is simple and special.

'Bloom' is by Jingze Du. I really like this piece. It shows buildings in a city square. The style is rough but deliberate, the paint used with fizz and energy, producing something almost tactile, a blurred picture full of life and colour. In contrast, there is Isabel McElwain’s 'Flowers'. It shows a brown, blue and white vase holding white and red flowers with green stems. It is simple, plain, honest and lovely.

There are two pieces here which go beyond outstanding, which suggest a talent and heart that take the viewer deep into their subjects. One is 'Denis', by Shania McDonagh. This is the face of an ageing man. The skin is wrinkled, the nose is bulbous. The hair is grey and yellow with too many cigarettes, but there’s something in the style and cut which tells you this man maybe had a swagger in his youth, a touch of the Brylcream Boy about him.

You can feel the material of his shirt and coat. The face is natural, honest and open, too tired for games. Every line, every sadness, every smile, every year of his life is there to see. It is a beautiful painting of a face rich in incident, experience and story. The masterful brushwork details each hair and crease, each colour and texture.

My Sister Sophie


And then there’s 'My Sister Sophie', by Simon Minias, the overall winner of the competition. Like Denis, Sophie looks at us face-on, straight in the eye. There is a dirty white background wash, which blends into the incredibly skilled pencil work of the head, face and shoulders. Sophie’s look is angular and intense. She is an intelligent and shrewd girl, kind, but ready to take the knocks.

Her hair – every strand of which is lovingly drawn – is beautiful but fragile, too. This is a face of promise and curiosity. She’s sharp but uncertain. Minias has captured the confidence and anxiety of youth, the unlined face waiting for experiences to write themselves on it.

These last two works both have real presence, genuine impact. They are the best things on display. But they’re not my favourites. The piece I like most is an untitled landscape, produced by Sarah White. 

White has used materials to produce a collage of land, river and sky. There are bits of cushion cover, curtains, blue denim, and light blue blouse. It is rough, simple, a little crude; pared-down, tactile. It is the work of someone who really looks around her, and who feels textures. I love it.

This is a terrific show. The fact the works displayed were produced by young artists is really irrelevant. What matters is that each of these art works deserves to be here, in one of Derry~Londonderry's finest galleries, on a stage that that would not have been so important were it not for the UK City of Culture. This is legacy.

The Texaco Children's Art Competition exhibition runs in the Gordon Gallery, Derry~Londonderry, until June 29.