Who won the John Moores Painting Prize?
It is the most prestigious painting award in the country but many have never heard of the John Moores Painting Prize.
Sarah Pickstone with Sir Peter Blake in front of her winning work
Nevertheless, it awards the same £25,000 pot as the Turner Prize, held annually at Tate, but can claim none of the latter's notoriety – perhaps because an unmade bed has not been entered for it yet (there were some painted overalls in the selection this year though).
Huge names can be listed among John Moores winners, from Richard Hamilton to David Hockney, to Sir Peter Blake (who won the junior prize in 1961). In the British painting world, it's significant.
Blake is the patron this year, and the judges (BBC creative director Alan Yentob, artists George Shaw, Angela de la Cruz and Fiona Banner, and Whitechapel gallery director Iwona Blazwick) selected five shortlisters, out of 62 longlisted paintings, from 3,000-odd anonymous applicants. It is open to any artist working in Britain, regardless of age or status.
This year's winner was Sarah Pickstone (born Manchester 1965), the first female since 1989 to receive the prize. She said ‘I feel fantastic and amazed' at the award ceremony on Friday 14 September, at the Walker Art Centre in Liverpool which hosts the award. For the last seven iterations, the prize has been part of the city's Biennial.
Pickstone's winning painting Stevie Smith and the Willow, was inspired by a sketch of a favourite tree, and the poem ‘Not Waving But Drowning' by the poet Stevie Smith, which she calls ‘quite dark – I wanted to turn it round and give it a bit of a rebirth.'
Sarah Pickstone's winning painting Stevie Smith and the Willow in oil, enamel and acrylic on aluminum panel, 2011
She is interested in how literature and art can inform one another, and believes in the ‘alchemic' nature of painting, saying her works often begin with drawings and develop with a natural exchange of ideas. ‘Nothing's particularly conscious, I think the best work isn't. You set yourself certain rules, but within them try to be free'.
She hit on one aspect of painting that ensures its continued power - How it supports such broad possibilities, from conceptual devices to the imaginative and illogical to the concrete: ‘It's so focused, but can also be really open.'
The five shortlisted artists also included Biggs & Collings (presenter Matthew Collings and his partner), Ian Law, Stephan Nicholas and Narbi Price, who will win £2,500 (view their works here). Of these five works, Pickstone's perhaps was the most traditionally figurative, but boasted an assured confluence of varied application of media, and hinted at the digital in its spray-painted strokes.
As she put it, ‘we're done with this debate about abstraction and figuration; everything has its source in the real world, in something that's meaningful.'
See below for the other paintings that caught our eye in the diverse exhibition.
Henny Acloque, 277, 2011
Works by historic artists are the starting point for Acloque (born London, 1979), who has also been included in Threadneedle and Jerwood Drawing Prize exhibitions. There is wit and grace to her obliteration of the figures within ‘fanstastical' landscapes, and her painting's jewel-like resin surface, she says, is about creating ‘a sense of infinity'.
Andrew Cranston, Thinking inside the box, 2012
Cranston (born Hawick, 1969) likes to think about painting as ‘true lies'; the artist as a writer spinning stories. This work is both disturbing and absurdly entertaining, and seems to point to the troubling aspects of life modeling, drawing on the artist's view that ‘Scottish art schools never really had the 1960s'.
Oscar Godfrey, Mineral 9, 2011
Godfrey (born Chester, 1984) says he aims to ‘convey the substance/sensation/density of real things'. This pleasing, and not very big canvas contains a shape recalling one large brushstroke, but it's made of many. Interestingly, its colours were premixed in advance to ‘avoid tentativeness'.
Rae Hicks, Late Summer Mirage , 2011
Strangely unreal real places inspire Hicks (born London, 1988), such as playgrounds and retail parks, or images in advertising. Playing with that brilliant layering of representation that painting does so well, this work takes from a hobby model photo, but pushes it towards a lifelike portrayal of landscape, finding a disconcerting spot in between the two.
Laura Lancaster, Untitled, 2012
Stylistically this recalls much recent virtuosic abstract work that feels photographic. Lancaster (born Hartlepool, 1979) works from snaps she finds of strangers, and aims to get at the indefinable ‘latent humour' and ‘pathos' in them.
Danny Markey, Traffic Island in the Snow, 2011
Surprisingly, this was painted predominantly en plein air. Markey (born Falmouth, 1965) says ‘this nowhere place almost emptied of subject matter allowed me to make something I could feel was my own'. It nicely demonstrates the strange thrill afforded by banal subjects represented in paint.
Damien Meade, Talcum, 2011
This sinister ‘painting of a sculpture' draws on the same doubletake found in Hicks' work (above), but the entrapped head and sly flick of what looks like an eyelash take it to a disconcerting level. Its title recalls something whose potential for unpleasant associations is strengthened by the atmosphere of the image. Meade suggests it hints at ‘vanity, or even perversion'.
Jay Oliver, Outside Toilet, 2011
This small, witty picture by Jay Oliver (born Gillingham, 1970), with its seemingly off-the-cuff application of paint, draws effectively on the basic connection between title and image, and in so doing allows for joyously unchained trains of associations, and a whiff of nostalgia. It is part of the artist's Village series.
Virginia Phongsathorn, Comma (Test Piece for an Eye Break), 2011
Certainly among the best titles in the exhibition, this work by Phongsathorn (born London, 1984) elegantly combines different types of language - a comma, a snail, an eye, a horizon. She admits it is this ‘complexity of the language of painting' that appeals to her, and that ‘on a canvas, a benign, commonplace object can become monumental and vice versa.
Andrew Seto, Fruit Loop, 2012
Shades of the cartoon style used by Philip Guston abound in this piece. Seto (born Edinburgh) attributes his forms living qualities: ‘the brushstrokes seek shelter, yet also want to play'. However he imagines them, this is a masterful exercise in mood, if nothing else, with the jolly lines and sweet title tempered by a sense of decaying childishness.
Emma Talbot, The Good Terrorists, 2012
Talbot's skill is in using unfashionable ingredients to make something strongly contemporary; the personal and emotional are close to the surface. The artist (born Worcester, 1969) has also gone for a direct political theme, drawing on a Doris Lessing novel about squatters in the 1980s. Tinged with romantic unreality and featuring creepily faceless figures, this work feels distinctive among so many painterly approaches.
The John Moores Painting Prize exhibition runs until 25 November 2012. For more information, click here.
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