Fresco painter Richard Wright wins Turner Prize

LONDON (Reuters) - A painter of abstract designs who wants none of his work to survive his death was awarded one of the world’s top contemporary art prizes on Monday.

Scottish-based Richard Wright beat the bookmakers’ favorite Roger Hiorns to win Britain’s Turner Prize, an annual award that normally stirs a hornet’s nest of controversy over what is art and what is not.

Best known for his intricate, mathematically precise wall frescoes, Wright seems an oddly sedate choice for a prize normally associated with the enfants terribles of conceptual art.

Damien Hirst won the Turner in 1995 with a pickled cow and Chris Ofili caused a stir in 1998 for works that incorporated lumps of elephant dung.

Wright’s exhibition piece is a baroque-style painting in gold leaf, which progresses in geometric swirls across an entire wall. His work has the ephemeral beauty of a glistening spider’s web, something created with painstaking detail but which will not last.

“I like the idea of there being nothing left when I’m gone,” said Wright, whose work will be painted over when the exhibition at the Tate Britain ends in January.

He said he sometimes felt sad when his work was destroyed, but also relieved.

“I’m interested in the fragility of the moment,” he said. “I hope the work will live on in the memories of the people who saw it. I have been surprised and touched by the reactions of people who saw it.”

A former pupil of the Edinburgh College of Art, Wright spent much of his early life painting figurative works on canvas. In the early 1990s he eschewed canvas and concentrated on fresco-type paintings for specific architectural contexts.

At 49, Wright only just qualified for the prize which is open to British-based artists under the age of 50 whose work over the past year has been judged especially innovative or important.

Previous winners include Gilbert & George, Richard Long and Anish Kapoor.

While short on shock value, the Turner Prize judges said Wright’s work was no less radical. They praised the “profound originality and beauty” of his designs, and the high standard of the competition in general.

“Rooted in fine art tradition yet radically conceptual in impact, Wright’s works come alive as they are experienced by the viewer,” the jury said in a statement.

Wright picks up a cheque for 25,000 pounds ($41,120). The three other shortlisted candidates -- Enrico David, Roger Hiorns and Lucy Skaer -- each receive a cheque for 5,000 pounds.

Work from all four short-listed artists will remain on display at the Tate Britain museum until January 3.