What unites the paintings in our new display of past John Moores Painting Prize winners since 1957 is of course the fact that they have all won the UK’s most prestigious painting prize, which is celebrating its 60th anniversary this year. But across this diverse group of canvases from different decades, other common links start to emerge, and this week we have mostly been spotting the variety of grids in the room!
The grid image on Noel Forster’s A Painting in Six Stages with a Silk Triangle from 1978 is an amorphous shape painted in acrylics on linen and silk. As its title implies, this is a ‘process’ painting – its final state was determined by a scheme worked out by Forster in advance. He applied one colour at a time in short curving strokes across successive areas of the canvas. Each application passed over the triangle which was then turned through one point to receive the next colour. The intersections of red, yellow and blue were overpainted with white to intensify the play of light. The resulting effect is that of an electrifying grid, or lattice, that dazzles the eyes of the viewer like a piece of op-art.
In 1997, Dan Hays created Harmony in Green, which is affectionately known as, ‘the hamster cage’. This painting has become a favourite with visitors, especially the thousands of school children who visit the Walker Art Gallery each year. In oil paint on canvas, it demonstrates a traditional artistic concern with the truthful representation of visual reality. Yet at the same time, it is a complex abstract painting. Hays adopted a very shallow perspective and an unusual treatment of the spaces between the cage bars. The colours form a random, harmonious pattern, and, across the top section of the painting, a mesmerising grid. He made this large-scale cage his own height to create “a desirable space to occupy.” The work’s title, ‘Harmony in Green’, is also the sub-title of a water-lily painting by Monet. Hays recalled Impressionism as he worked on this, stating, “Green is the colour of nature.”
Alexis Harding won the Prize in 2004 with his visually arresting work Slump/Fear (orange/black). The painting appears unstable, a black grid tearing apart the surface and ready to slip off the edge of the structure. To create the painting, he poured oil paint onto primed MDF board. While this was still wet, gloss paint was poured over it through a perforated guttering, making the ‘grid’. The quick-drying gloss formed a skin but the oil beneath stayed wet. Combining control with chance, Harding then tilted the board repetitively. He manipulated the paint with his fingers, forcing the two layers to move against each other. Harding describes this as, “a work made within… limits that I can only discover by squeezing and pushing [them] to extremes.”
It is definitely the case that once you have seen grids in one place, you start seeing them everywhere. In our recent John Moores Painting Prize project team meeting, two of my colleagues were rocking the grid. Today, the Walker Art Gallery, tomorrow, Vogue?
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