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Review: John Moores Painting Prize 2020

Review: John Moores Painting Prize 2020

John Moores Painting Prize 2020 holds on to its planned year in the title, despite postponement. Thankfully, that’s the only reminder of the year we’ve had.

JMPP is a haven from the world in so many ways, whether that’s travelling into the utopias/dystopias created by this year’s artists, or stepping back in time to see a show designed for July last year, presented almost exactly as it would have been.

It’s noticeable that none of the work reference the pandemic in any way, because almost every other programme for the last twelve months has had some sort of nod to current affairs, but the artists here have been waiting a long time to show work they submitted over 18 months ago. But a haven is a haven, regardless of the news.

Unusually for JMPP work is split into broad categories for exhibition, with urban spaces shared in one room, rural spaces in another, human condition in a third, and material play in a fourth. It heightened the experience of the show, particularly considering how reflective of the present moment of painting the prize has been over its 64 years.

The splitting of subject makes the trends in British painting massively apparent, and what’s surprising is the amount of material play. 2018’s winner, Jaqui Hallum, was one of the most experimental paintings to ever win the award, so whether the judging panel had started giving more weight to paintings in that area, or whether there have been more entries using materials play is unclear. But the works on fabric, the printed work, trompe d’loeil, and multi-disciplinary works are a powerful indicator of a return to more traditional methods.


There more expected works take more challenging physical forms too, with landscape and still-life healthily represented, but with working spanning over monochrome, to triptychs, to generously glazed canvases. But for all of the artists looking at rural space and plant life, their dedication to subject beyond beauty is clear.

It’s one place where JMPP, or any other group exhibition in this format, falls down. You can never really get to know an artist and their work at first viewing, because it’s quite rare for any one painting to be produced in isolation. There’s no narrative provided for the works without putting in the leg work and getting to know the artists, so you’re pretty much stuck with what’s in front of you. Thankfully, what’s in front of you with JMPP this year is outstanding.

Hannah Brown, Hedge 4

Words, Patrick Kirk-Smith
JMPP exhibition at Walker Art Gallery is now closed