Bill Viola’s works are often referred to as “moving paintings” and his oeuvre includes videotapes, video installations, sound environments, and works for television broadcast. Born in New York in 1951, Viola studied visual art and electronic music at Syracuse University, where he saw the potential for combining images, movement and sound to express the human condition in a new way. He often uses the elements of fire, water and light in his work to explore the themes of birth, death and rebirth. Viola says that the death of his mother and his subsequent work, The Passing (1991), was a turning point. “That was the moment I understood art. Everything became real, and I realized that my video work as an artist and my private life at that time were the same. It changed my life dramatically.” In 1980, Viola married Kira Perov and they began a lifelong artistic collaboration. He is currently in production for two video chapels in St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, to be completed in 2012.
The Laureate receives an honorarium of 15 million yen (c. £115,000), a diploma and a medal. The previous Praemium Imperiale laureates for painting are: Willem de Kooning, David Hockney, Antoni Tapiès, Balthus, Pierre Soulages, Jasper Johns, Zao Wou-ki, Matta, Cy Twombly, Gerhard Richter, Robert Rauschenberg, Anselm Kiefer, Ellsworth Kelly, Lee Ufan, Sigmar Polke, Bridget Riley, Georg Baselitz, Robert Ryman, Yayoi Kusama, Daniel Buren, Richard Hamilton, Hiroshi Sugimoto, Enrico Castellani.
The other Praemium Imperiale 2011 award winners are: Dame Judi Dench (Theatre/film), Anish Kapoor (Sculpture), Ricardo Legoretta (Architecture) and Seiji Ozawa (Music).
The Praemium Imperiale is a global arts prize awarded annually by the Japan Art Association, the oldest cultural foundation in Japan, founded in 1887. It was established to mark the centennial of the Japan Art Association and to honour the wish of the late Prince Takamatsu, its Honorary Patron for 58 years, “to contribute to enhancing and promoting the cultures and arts of the world”. Five Praemium Imperiale Awards in the categories of Painting, Sculpture, Architecture, Music and Theatre/film have been made every year since its inauguration in 1989 to honour individuals from all over the world who have made an outstanding contribution to the development of the arts. In addition, the Praemium Imperiale Grant for Young Artists for 2011 of 5 million yen (c. £36,000) has been jointly awarded to the Southbank Sinfonia, a young musicians’ orchestra, and the Royal Court Theatre Young Writers Programme, for their work in nurturing young talent.