The John Moores Painting Prize (2014)

Kweiseye is an art criticism blog written by Tom Kwei. If you enjoy this article, browse the archive HERE for more than 60 other critiques of both artists and exhibitions. Any questions/queries/use: tomkweipoet@gmail.com

First held in 1957, the John Moores Painting Prize is the UK’s best-known painting competition and is held in Liverpool’s Walker Art Gallery almost every two years. During a recent trip to the city for its Biennial festival I visited this year’s showcase and was really taken aback by the invention and diversity on show. So, to ignore the past for a brief moment, here are 3 of this year’s entries that really got me staring and nodding – oft at the same time!

‘People 61094’ – Frank Pudney (2013)

photo1 (1)After spotting it from far across the gallery, 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 the blankness inbetween.

This impeccably crafted visual instability plays well into the emotions evoked by the piece. Face to face with the image, individuality soon becomes a thing of insignificance. Feelings of sonder (the realization that everyone you’ve ever glimpsed experiences a life just as complex as yours) overwhelm as the eye traces over the thousands upon thousands of people painted onto the board.

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By crafting every single person (though perhaps it’s difficult to ascertain from the above image) with great care and effort, Pudney spins what could be a dwarfing sense of triviality into something uplifting. Yes, the world is one in which our own experiences form a single heart beat in this world’s life cycle, but that is the same for everyone, we are all unfathomably small and ultimately inherently colossal.

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.

 

‘Freezer’ – Susan Hamilton (2012)

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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 at this painting was this sense of place in spite of the abridged grotesqueness exhibited onto 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 as well as their hands being  animalistic, 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.

‘Sometimes I Forgot That You’re Gone’ – Rae Hicks (2013) 

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Tall natural pines lie up against a wall by a roadside, beside them Christmas trees have been painted onto imitation green board. Though the picture lacks the energy of my aforementioned choices, there is a moving quietness to the piece. The fake lies in the 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. Hicks presents a piece of insensible assembly, laying before us dormant parts and asking us to construct and imagine.

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