In Britain the art of painting is alive and bursting with ideas” Alan Yentob, judge.

Manchester-born Sarah Pickstone has won the John Moores Painting Prize, British painting’s most prestigious title.

The £25,000 first prize was awarded by Sir Peter Blake (patron, and winner of the junior prize in 1961) to Sarah for her intriguing work, Stevie Smith and the Willow.

A major part of the Liverpool Biennial, the John Moores Painting Prize runs until 6 January 2013. Sarah’s remarkable work is now on display with the 61 other paintings, including the four additional prize winners, selected from more than 3,000 entries.

Sarah’s winning work is inspired by Stevie Smith’s enigmatic illustration to accompany her poem Not Waving But Drowning (1957)published the same year as the first ever John Moores.

The large piece (198.3cm x 229 cm) is a depiction of Smith’s beguiling figure, engulfed by the drooping branches of a weeping willow tree and delicate reflections in the water. It is a mixture of oil, enamel and acrylic paint on an aluminium panel.

Sarah, who was also a John Moores prize winner in 2004, explains her motives: “[The painting is] …from a series of works which nod to a creative communality.

”Smith was definitely an original, whose poems (and pictures) make a confluence of comic and metaphysic.  In the painting, the girl (artist, poet, reader, child) bathes in the water under an old weeping willow: part tree, part self, part story, part rebirth.”

Judge Fiona Banner described the winning painting: “It’s a representation of the poet Stevie Smith in a deranged landscape. It’s also a painting of one artist reflected through another, a meeting of literary and pictorial minds – an enigmatic double portrait that grapples with the creative self.”

Judge George Shaw reveals his first impression of Stevie Smith and the Willow: “I couldn’t resist this Ophelia, enlarged like all gestures of doomed romance into everlasting drama. Or perhaps as a viewer I’m cast as dirty old Actaeon getting an eyeful of the bathing Diana in the woods and it is me who is doomed. I don’t know who made it or why, but its simplicity and scale is admirable and memorable. Of course the title tells me it’s Stevie Smith so death, as in all half-decent painting, lurks in each corner. I want to know more but I’m strangely contented this time with what I’m given.”

Other winners in the competition’s history have included David Hockney (1967), Richard Hamilton (joint 1969), Mary Martin (1969) and Peter Doig (1993).

The four other prize winners each receive £2,500. In alphabetical order they are: The Greater Light by Biggs & Collings, M is many by Ian Law,Gallery by Stephen Nicholas and Untitled Kerbstone Painting (MJK) by Narbi Price.

Down the Acapulco by Wayne Clough was also given a special commendation by the judges.

Judge Alan Yentob said: “It was exhilarating to discover, in the course of viewing so much of the work submitted for this year’s John Moores, that in Britain the art of painting is alive and well and bursting with ideas.

“The selection was tough because the quality was high, but the jury was especially impressed and heartened by the creativity and conviction on display in the final five prize winners. Yes, painting still matters”.

John Moores Painting Prize 2012 judges were Fiona Banner (artist), Iwona Blazwick (Director of the Whitechapel), Angela de la Cruz (artist), George Shaw (artist) and Alan Yentob (Creative Director of the BBC).

Artists’ biographies:

Winner: Sarah Pickstone

Sarah Pickstone was born in Manchester in 1965. She studied at the Royal Academy Schools London, for a post-graduate degree in Painting (1988-1991); this followed a BA in Fine Art at the University of Newcastle Upon Tyne (1983-1987). She was awarded a Rome Scholarship in Painting (1991-1992). Pickstone works from her studio at Cubitt in central London. She has exhibited widely and has work in the Saatchi Collection. Selected shows include: Layers, Seongnam Art Centre, Korea, (2010). Double Interview, Group show, I-MYU projects and Seoul art space Seoul, Korea. Irony and Gesture, Kukje Gallery, Seoul (2008). Sarah and Simon, Platform, London (2006). Morpho Eugenia, Galleria d’Arte Moderna e Contemporanea, Republicca di San Marino, Italy (2005). Park Life, Clifford Chance, London, (2005). The Park, Platform, London (2004). Hortulus Animae, Eremo di S. Caterina, Isola d’Elba, Italy 2002. Pickstone’s work is included in Artful a new publication by author Ali Smith, in the

Prize winner: Biggs & Collings

Emma Biggs was born in 1956. She studied Fine Art at Leeds University. (1976-80). She has a solo career as a professional mosaic artist, and has made collaborative paintings with Matthew Collings since 2009. They are represented by Vigo Gallery, Old Bond St. Their work has been included in many group exhibitions, most recently Ha Ha What does this represent? at Standpoint, Hoxton. Matthew Collings was born in 1955. He studied painting at the Byam Shaw, (1974-78) and Goldsmith’s College. He is well known as an author of many books on art, and writer and presenter of TV programmes on the same subject (his 1998 series This Is Modern Art won a Bafta among other awards.) His own work as an artist appeared in many group shows in the 1990s. For the last twelve years he has focused his art practice entirely on his collaboration with Emma Biggs.

Prize winner: Ian Law

Ian Law, born in 1984, lives and works in London. He studied for his MA Painting at the Royal College of Art, London (2007-2009). Solo exhibitions include: make sure, RODEO, Istanbul, (2012), Co-, Laura Bartlett Gallery, London, (2011), Is Many, Supplement, London, (2011), Add a description, Galeria Plan B, Berlin, (2011). Other exhibitions: Young London, V22 Workspace, London, (2011), History of Art, the (curated by Mihnea Mircan), The David Roberts Art Foundation, London, (2010), A very, very long cat, Wallspace, New York, (2010), Session_3_Image, Am Nuden Da, London, (2009), Bloomberg New Contemporaries 2008, Greenland Street, Liverpool/ Rochelle School, London, (2008).

Prize winner: Stephen Nicholas

Stephen Nicholas was born in 1958 in Shoreham by Sea, Hove, and studied at St Albans (1979-81) and Falmouth School of Art (1981-84). Solo shows include: Flicker Narcissus, Beaconsfield London (1994), It’s my party and I’ll die if I want to, De verschijning Tilburg (1996) and Lapse, Platform London (2000).Group exhibitions include The Happy Squirrel Club(curated/produced by BANK), De Fabriek Eindhoven (1996), Instantaneous, Beaconsfield London (1996), Mommy Dearest, Gimpel Fils London (2000), The (Ideal) Home Show, Gimpel Fils London (2001) and A Thing About Painting, Platform London (2002).

Prize winner: Narbi Price

Born 19 December 1979, Hartlepool, Narbi Price lives and works in Newcastle upon Tyne. He studied MA Fine Art, Newcastle University (2008 – 2010) and BA (Hons) Fine Art, Northumbria University (1999 – 2002). Exhibitions include: Omnia Mea Mecum Porto – Works On Paper, Kotti-Shop, Berlin, Germany (2012), GalleriaSIX with Marc Bijl, Arte Fiera, Bologna, Italy (2012), Hole Editions – Ink on Paper, Durham Art Gallery & DLI Museum, Durham, (2011), Narbi Price – Solo Show of Site Specific Work, GalleriaSIX, Milan, Italy (2011), Nothing, Like Something, Happens Anywhere – New Work by Narbi Price and Neil Cammock, Moving Gallery, Newcastle upon Tyne, (2011), 9, ACADovetail, Newcastle upon Tyne, 2011, John Moores Contemporary Painting Prize, Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool (2010)

The five prize winners from the John Moores Painting Prize China 2012 will also be on display in the exhibition.

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