Regarded by Sir Norman Rosenthal as, ‘the Oscar of the British painting world’, the John Moores Painting Prize has been held in Liverpool’s Walker Art Gallery since 1957.
The exhibition’s main aims as stated in the first catalogue, were: ‘To give Merseyside the chance to see an exhibition of painting and sculpture embracing the best and most vital work being done today through the country’ and ‘to encourage contemporary artists, particularly the young and progressive’.
During a recent trip to the city for its Biennial festival I visited this year’s showcase and was really taken aback by both the invention and diversity on show. Whilst it’s impossible to discuss such a wide spread of work in a single article, or indeed to do any art real truth through the written word, here are three of this year’s entries that really got me staring and nodding – oft at the same time.
After spotting it from far across the gallery, Frank Pudney’s amorphous enormity altered before my eyes with every step I took. At first within squinting distance it seemed but a mass of long dappled strokes merging elegantly against rising steam. Closer still it became to me a snowy mountain landscape as if seen from far above, the dense mottled brushwork now looking more like trees beneath gasps of cloud. With my feet firmly in front of the frame however, my view changed once more as I noticed that every paint flicker was actually a person silhouetted against the wide canvas expanse. The majority of these people huddled close but never touching in thick bundles, with a few escaping to explore the blankness between.
Some of the figures lean in inquisitive to their fellow; others gaze and wander out above and beyond. They all, however, stick to their space and existence; whilst in the top left corner a searing emptiness waits for us all.
This impeccably crafted visual instability plays well into the emotions evoked by the piece. Face to face with the image, individuality soon becomes insignificant. As the eye traces over the thousands upon thousands of people depicted in this piece, you come to the realization that every single person experiences a life just as complex as yours.
By crafting each person with great care and effort, Pudney spins what could be a dwarfing sense of triviality into something uplifting. Even though within this world´s life cycle our own experiences form but a single heartbeat; we are all unfathomably small and ultimately inherently colossal.
Regardless of the flattened patterns of abstraction that bleed all across this piece, the motifs of supermarket shopping and frozen food aisles are all too familiar. What I really loved was this sense of place in spite of the abridged grotesqueness exhibited on the acrylic. Faintly beneath the false white light for example are absent strokes to designate shelves amid the portal-like entrance of the open fridge. The figure, too, is drawn in an uneasy equanimity with the food taken, both in color and shape, their hands like raw lobster claws in their execution.
The blemishes on the back of the coat became a real focal point for me on my first viewing, their pulsing rings being the only real circular calm within a jagged canvas of transmutation and disarray. Indeed the surroundings of the image seem to be collapsing and engulfing upon the whole itself, with the true menacing black slowly seeming to crush both shopper and shop.
Tall natural pines lie up against a wall by a roadside, beside Christmas trees, painted on imitation green board. Though the picture lacks the energy of my aforementioned choices, there is a moving quietness to the piece. The fake lies within closest proximity and company of the real; all ignored against a setting sun and a road that seemingly goes on forever out of the edge of the frame.
The heavy use of triangles throughout is subtle but well placed, not only through the smaller shadow cast by the cut out, but also the wide triangle constructed by the leaning tree on the right. Rae Hicks presents a piece of insensible assembly, laying before us dormant parts and asking us to construct and imagine.
The John Moores Prize’s field of landscapes, portraits, abstract and sculptural pieces, submitted by 50 selected UK-based artists, make for an astonishing mix of works united only by their manipulation of paint. The exhibition also features the prize winners from the 2014 John Moore’s Prize China. It is definitely worth a visit and I strongly recommend all art lovers in the Liverpool area to see first-hand this great display of art diversity.
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