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John Moores Painting Prize Shortlisted Artists announced

The five shortlisted artists vying for this year’s prestigious John Moores Painting Prize have been revealed.

Robbie Bushe, Steph Goodger, Michele Fletcher, Stephen Lee and Kathryn Maple are all in with a chance of winning the £25,000 top prize when it is announced on March 4. Each runner up will receive £2,500.

They are among 67 artists chosen from nearly 3,000 entries to have their work shown at the biennial prize exhibition at the Walker Art Gallery.

And while the gallery is currently closed due to Coronavirus restrictions, there is a chance to be led on a virtual tour of the works.

The exhibition was due to have taken place last summer until the pandemic struck.

The shortlisted works are:

Steph Goodger – The Motherland (2019)

It is the third time Goodger has exhibited in the John Moores, joining previous exhibitions in 2004 and 2016.

The Motherland was inspired by a landscape of red brick pillboxes, dating from the Second World War and stretching along the banks of the River Medway.

Goodger was fascinated with one particular scene where a tree’s exposed roots were encroaching on the foundations of a pillbox.

Michele Fletcher – Compost (2020)

Artist Michele Fletcher’s work reflects on the cyclical change of the natural world, considering how a garden, like a painting, involves intervention, manipulation and composition.

Compost, painted in oils on linen, was made around the time of the vernal/spring equinox, and typical of the Canadian artist’s work.

Stephen Lee – March (2020)

The central figure in Lee’s work March is joined by his dog and surrounded by tools which are burnished and tactile. Behind him glazed layers of paint form a meandering picturesque view.

The figure stands in dialogue with this background, asking questions about his connection to nature and culture.

Kathryn Maple – The Common (2020)

The Common, a work in oils on canvas, evokes the quiet moments of urban mundanity, where observed and imagined worlds cross paths.

Maple, who also exhibited at the John Moores in 2018, describes it as a "...meeting place, an intersection, people seemingly aware of each other, but minds elsewhere – all sharing an open space..."

Robbie Bushe – Neanderthal Futures Infirmary (2019)

If homo sapiens have made such a mess of everything, perhaps Neanderthals might do better?

Neanderthal Futures Infirmary imagines an old Victorian hospital with a Neanderthal DNA extraction and cloning facility within a complex network of underground bunkers.

This is the first time the Kirkby-born, Scotland-raised Bushe has had a painting in the John Moores, although not the first time he has entered the competition, having submitted works both a couple of years and two decades ago.

The 56-year-old, who lived at Maghull as a small boy before moving to Aberdeenshire, says: “When I got the email to say I had got in (to the prize), that was just absolutely fantastic, even though we didn’t know when the exhibition was going to be.

“Then to be shortlisted – my partner said I was white as a sheet, I couldn’t believe it. I keep saying, it doesn’t matter now, this is the most incredible achievement, and I can’t even contemplate winning. There are some fantastic artists I the exhibition.

“I’d be philosophical if I didn’t win but unbelievably proud and excited if I did. I don’t think it will ever get better than that in terms of achievement.”

Bushe (pictured above in his studio) says his late parents would also be proud to see his artwork on show at the Walker.

His father Fred Bushe was a leading Scottish sculptor who was awarded an OBE for his service to the artform. In the 1960s he taught in Merseyside – a largescale piece of his work can be found on the façade of the University of Liverpool science lecture rooms in Chatham Street.

His late mother Rosemary meanwhile was a performance artist, poet and playwright as well as a speech therapist.

“So I’ve had a very good liberal arts upbringing,” Bushe laughs.

Neanderthal Futures Infirmary is one of four large-scale paintings originally created for an exhibition, Neoneanderthals, which was shown at the Royal Scottish Academy in Edinburgh.

The initial idea came from anthropologist and artist Jeanne Cannizzo whose elderly mother was ‘horrified’ to discover she was 3% Neanderthal, and from that Bushe says he developed a series of intricate artworks which looked at how you might bring Neanderthals back from extinction and create a new race to save humanity – delivered in ‘playful, misleading and mischievous’ fashion.

Bushe, who developed his narrative style while studying in 1980s Edinburgh, says in recent years he has been particularly drawn by the work of a former John Moores prize winner, Rose Wylie, explaining: “Somebody like her gave me permission to be much more playful in my imagery and how I can - although I'll never paint like her, but there's something about the way that I paint now that's been influenced by that.”

Along with the 67 main entries, five prizewinning paintings from the John Moores Painting Prize China – organised by the College of Fine Arts at Shanghai University - will also be displayed during the run of the exhibition.

The John Moores Painting Prize is at the Walker Art Gallery from February 12-June 27. A virtual tour of the exhibition is available online HERE.


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