Monday, 12 November 2012

John Moores Painting Prize 2012

I had a go at the John Moores Critics Award needless to say it wasn't shortlisted…

OK, where do I begin?

I've decided to write about the John Moore's Painting Prize and now how do I approach the work on display. I've already thought about my approach, imagined myself climbing up the steps and through the galleries of previous contemporary paintings. Do they form a funnel, a line which is directing me to now?

Will I be bias? I'm an artist but never painted, I did my training at a university which specifically ignored painting until financial pressure prevailed.

Once I enter the dedicated space how I'm I to look at the individual paintings comparing each painting to the one next to it, as my fellow visitors appear to be doing. People stop at each painting consider it and move on. I wonder what's going on in their minds what questions bubble up as they move through the space. How do they compare an excited gestural mark to a carefully placed line?

Like me do they have perceptions of what makes up painting, are they here to have those perception confirmed, denied or altered.

Like me do they attempt to see the exhibition as a whole, carefully studying the paintings for clues which point towards the state of the contemporary painting? In doing so do I congratulate myself for being able to identify the contextual soup from which the paintings emerge. Look there's a bit of Modernism there, Surrealism there, forms of Minimalism other there and so on.

Well the answer, as so often seems to happen, lays somewhere in between. Thinking about the answer actually points to something more important, a shift in attitudes towards painting that's been underway for the last sixty years or so. A shift in the relationship between viewer and artist, it would seem that the painter's authority isn't absolute. The painter isn't simply saying my work is about X and this is all you should see rather contemporary painting seems to want an opening of a dialogue between the viewer and artist.

So as a viewer I'm no longer in a passive position I must take an active role in decoding the work in front of me. For Example Dougal McKenzie's piece Otl's Gift seems to defy any conventional sense of the term painting, as is it constructed from a 70's dress and two images. It's if the artist has collected or collaged objects which he know will activate a set off a sense of nostalgia within the viewer without pointing to a specific moment. While questioning the physical nature of constitutes painting.

Of course there is a danger in this as in this dialogue there is an assumption that both parties know exactly what each other is talking about. In a way this dialogue is a request from the artist for the viewer to perform an act of trust that the artist isn't trying to pull a fast one. This sensation is pushed to its limits by Matt Welch's painting which references the founder of Ikea's involvement with the Nazi movement. All I see is blocks of splodged paint I kind which I could have the reaction of the man stood next to me as he seems to get the joke.

I know what you're thinking surely there are more than two paintings in this exhibition. Well Yes. I want to reassure you the reader that in between these works there is the spectrum which marks what makes up this thing called contemporary painting. John Moore's is an excellent survey of the concerns of anyone picking up a paintbrush today, I could have spent this article listing painters but somehow that didn't seem right. Earlier I said the works open a dialogue between you as viewer and themselves and like finding yourself in room full of people you will find yourself warming to some, amused by others, struck by the beauty of some and completely annoyed with one or two.

Ultimately you as the viewer need to be within that room, to engage in that dialogue. It's the best way to learn how to approach this thing called art.


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