Moore Painting Prize (Prizewinners) To 18th November 2018
Has Vim. And more than a touch of bleach. Some of the works in this John Moores Painting Prizewinners show have such a thin look you’d think they had been entries in some strange wall washing exercise, with only faint, non-descript images left. But not to worry, because there are some BIG pictures here, and we all know that the bigger the picture, the harder it is to spend much time on any particular part of it. Think Hockney’s Bigger Trees at Warter – slapdash at least has two syllables. Here, painting has almost become mono-syllabic and so is, quite conceivably post-minimalist.
Let’s take, for example a previous prize winner’s entry: “Stevie Smith and the Willow” by Sarah Pickstone (2011, detail illustrated). Painted perhaps one morning before breakfast, what’s not to like? It’s not as insipid as some entries, and it is indeed a painting, but how exactly does it engage the viewer? Is it a rather inelegant hoax? Are the selectors making a statement? Is there a conspiracy afoot? Something serious must be going on here since the artist is a product of ‘the Royal Academy Schools of Art in London’ (according to the caption) and has been favoured by that showman Charles Saatchi. The picture indeed captures something of a ‘childlike drawing of a girl waist deep in water’ (caption) inspired by the poet Stevie Smith’s poem “Not Waving But Drowning” though clearly there’s no waving going on here, unless the pond in Regent’s Park (which the artist studied) is what’s drowning. But water can’t drown. The girl’s hair seems to have been under water already so perhaps she’s had second thoughts, or has just washed her hair. She does look a little bit disgruntled. But who wouldn’t be if you had to wash your hair in a cold pond?
It shouldn’t be of any concern to us that this picture of a ‘girl waist deep in water’ (so may be only two feet deep) has nothing to do with Stevie Smith’s poem which begins ‘Nobody heard him, the dead man/But still he lay moaning:/I was much further out than you thought/And not waving but drowning.’ According to t’internet, Smith’s poem is the country’s fourth favourite. I’m not sure this picture will acquire the same status.
Elsewhere in the show there are some small pictures. I wouldn’t want to mislead you. And perhaps I'm being rather selective. I just wonder how some things slip through.