The John Moores Painting Prize 2020 exhibition has launched with a virtual tour of the show. Featuring the work of 67 artists, the exhibition will open at the Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool, once COVID-19 restrictions are eased.

The UK’s oldest and most prestigious painting prize offers a £25,000 first prize, plus four additional prizes of £2,500. For the first time this year there will also be a £2,500 Emerging Artist Prize, supported by Winsor & Newton.

The longlist was selected from almost 3,000 artworks, ranging from large-scale canvases to highly detailed pieces. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the exhibition covers a wide range of styles, linked by their use of paint.

Here we take a look at some of the works by a-n members who were selected for the show, including: Kathryn Maple (who has been shortlisted along with Robbie Bushe, Michele Fletcher, Steph Goodger and Stephen Lee), Liz Elton, Annika Ström, Charles Williams, Lindsey Bull, Laura Lancaster, Mary Castle-Millner, Matthew Krishanu, Sikelela Owen and Rebecca Harper.

One of the shortlisted works in with a chance of winning the coveted £25,000 first prize is Kathryn Maple‘s The Common. The painting evokes the quiet moments of urban mundanity, where observed and imagined worlds cross paths. Maple describes it as a “meeting place, an intersection, people seemingly aware of each other, but minds elsewhere – all sharing an open space…”. The artist’s work frequently returns to ideas around these ‘resting places within a city’, where nature is seen and celebrated.

Maple was born in Canterbury, Kent, and attended the Royal Drawing School London from 2013-14 and University of Brighton from 2008-11. Recent exhibitions include The Just, Aleph Contemporary, London, 2020 and the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition, London, 2019. Kathryn exhibited in the John Moores Painting Prize 2018.

Matthew Krishanu is a painter based in London. Explaining his featured work Riverboat, he says: “This is the second time I’ve been in the John Moore’s Painting Prize (previously in 2018). In my painting Riverboat, two boys sit on the prow of a boat – one boy meets the viewer’s gaze, the other looks down.

“The work belongs to my Another Country series of paintings, drawing on experiences of my childhood in Bangladesh and India. I have a number of concurrent series that I work on that all link together – a kind of world-building project.”

Krishanu’s recent exhibitions include Picture Plane (solo) at Niru Ratnam Gallery, London, and Everyday Heroes, Hayward Gallery / Southbank Centre, London. In January 2020 he showed his crow paintings in Lahore (with Ikon Gallery at the Lahore Biennial), and exhibited works from Another Country at Jhaveri Contemporary in Mumbai in 2019.

The artist is currently working towards a solo show in Berlin this autumn, and has been commissioned to create new work for the Coventry Biennial 2021.

Liz Elton is an artist based in London. She is the recipient of a Mark Rothko Memorial Trust Artist-in-Residence Award in Latvia this year, with current and upcoming shows including Flowers of Romance III, White Conduit Projects, London and Yellow Archangel, General Practice, Nottingham. Her work was included in the 2012 and 2018 editions of the John Moores Painting Prize.

Tender is one of a series of landscape paintings concerned with environment and soil exhaustion. The ground is compostable cornstarch (material made from corn or potatoes and used for food waste recycling bags), painted with vegetable dyes from food waste, watercolours, water miscible oils, food supplements, compost and earth pigments, and hand-sewn with silk. Embedded in its seams are seeds from plants considered to have medicinal properties.

Describing Tender, Elton says: “Delicate and tender, it references the thin layer of soil that life depends on, considering our relationship with land, nourishment and waste. I hope the work will spill off the wall and breathe gently as people pass.”

London-based artist Sikelela Owen‘s practice explores ideas of community and intimacy. Her practice is predominately made up of loose figurative paintings, drawings, and prints of friends, family, and people of interest, enacting everyday rites and captured in moments of leisure.

The Knitter is a painting of the artist’s mother when she was pregnant (with the artist), knitting while she sits on a park bench in a Bristol. Its composition echoes historical British paintings and is a meditation on a young woman at a pivotal point in her life.

Describing the painting, Owen says: “It speaks of the vulnerability of an intangible past and unclear future overlapping in layers, laid out in the loosely defined spaces, through the removal of superfluous details and layering that imbues the work with a feeling of ‘elsewhere’. The painting’s slow, layered simplicity attempts to capture something more meaningful, lasting and empathetic in an era visual excess.”

Owen has donated work to the Hepatitis C International Women’s Day Auction, 27 February – 11 March 2021. A fundraising print for Hospital Rooms in 2021, will also be part of a group exhibition at the Grove Collective in March 2021.

Manchester-based Lindsey Bull‘s work The Moors is included in the exhibition. Explaining her work, she says: “The painting continues my ‘twins’ series. This is a series depicting figures that have a psychological relationship, not necessarily biological. I wanted to represent the powerful symbiotic force between these two individuals and how it generates a level of deep intimacy between them. They are physically close but also emotionally entwined. I see these two figures to be open to the world, but at the same time closed and deeply secretive.

“You can see this thread throughout much of my work and this is driven by my fascination with various aspects of magic, myth, cults, fashion, music and subcultures. Often people who might be considered on the fringes of mainstream culture and society.

“The figures are placed within a landscape of moorland which underlines the suggestion of edgelands. A contradictory landscape of stark beauty and wild melancholy. I had just come back from a walk over the Peak District when I was finishing this painting and the title became clear from this trip.”

Bull’s upcoming exhibitions include a solo show at bo.lee gallery, London, in November 2021.

Swedish-born artist Annika Ström works predominantly with film and soundtracks, site-specific performances, text work and painting. Describing her work, Dr Josephine Berry explains: “Her film practice is often autobiographical, lacing an intense focus on the everyday with moments of fiction and absurdism. She has written a feature film, directed two shorts and is currently writing a novel.

“Annika’s first solo show was in New York in 1997 and she has exhibited with many commercial galleries, museums and independent institutions. Public acquisitions of her work include Migros Museum, Moderna Museet, Wiener Secession, MoCa in Belgrade, CAAC in Seville, Sammlung Verbund Vienna and The Gallery, Leicester. Notable performances in the UK are the pieces Ten Embarrassed Men at Frieze Art Projects and Seven Women Standing in The Way at Focal Point Gallery.

“For the last few years she has devoted herself to painting 100 bold, abstract works on paper all 122cm x 153 cm whose unsentimental titles play a large part. These titles often reflect on our contemporary digital life with a melancholic undertone. The title I am Curious Pink is an exception and refers to a Swedish erotic film drama from 1967. Her work explores the fear of failure, social subtexts and loss without resorting to solemnity. Performance and painting have interacted throughout her career and her act of making 100 paintings is a private performance with works made to be enjoyed publicly.”

Laura Lancaster‘s practice centres around the translation of found anonymous photographic archives into paint. Using the qualities intrinsic to painting itself (scale, surface, paint handling, colour) she opens up the reading of her source imagery and reveals the psychological charge and the latent meaning of these potentially banal source images.

Invocation is part of an ongoing series of paintings based on found snapshots of women in landscapes. Lancaster comments: “In these paintings I am interested in creating confrontation between the viewer and subject, using the transformative power of painting to explore the psychological charge that exists in this silent exchange.

“There is a focus on the feeling of temporality, of paused movement in a liminal space. These subjects are at some point on a journey, suspended in a tangle of marks and painterly gestures. The marks displace the subject, doing away with any sense of specifics of their exact location, giving them the feeling of a dream or memory. These everyday images take on a new meaning or reading when painted in this way.”

Charles Williams is in the final year of a PAR PhD at Canterbury Christ Church University, where he used to teach on the Fine Art degree course. Explaining his practice, Williams says: “It is about what it means to be a contemporary British artist. When I was a student I realised that the artists I liked were French, German, then American, and, like an idiot, I decided to start by looking at what British artists had managed in the past. This has bogged me down in art history and made me imagine that British watercolourists, Reynolds, and Sickert might be my chief inspirations, and forget that I used to enjoy entertaining my friends with pornographic and satirical drawings on our school desks.

“I’m 55 now, too old to be a ‘promising young artist’ anymore. I had hoped that I could be like Moroni’s Tailor, with which this painting started, a self-respecting professional artist, secure in his position, but the skills I have acquired are more or less redundant, and I am afraid that my concerns have become increasingly self-regarding and morbid. What Adam Kotsko would call the awkwardness of this, and of my vocation generally, is mirrored in the jarring shifts of language in the painting, between body and head, space and surface.”

London-based artist Rebecca Harper works from her studio in Deptford at APT Gallery and Studios. She has a solo show with Anima Mundi Gallery lined up for summer 2021.

Commenting on her work, Harper says: “A ‘Diasporic’ consciousness can involve a multiplicity of belonging and sense of difference, one of ‘otherness’ and displacement. The identity of the displaced positioning is a paradox between location and dislocation, out of place everywhere and not completely anywhere. This viewpoint frames expressions of ‘being’ and manifests itself in my paintings as an unfolding, wondering, allegoric commentary on the locations I inhabit.

Between two worlds presents a theatre in which to look compassionately at settlement, and deals with contradictory positions within identity and belonging.”

Louise Bristow lives in Brighton and has a studio at Phoenix Art Space. On her painting selected for John Moores 2020, titled Citizens, she comments: “It is based on a set-up of models and collage elements that I constructed in my studio and then painted from life. Among the things represented are fragments of landscapes, an illustration from a children’s book, a photograph of a socialist realist sculpture and a 3D balsa wood structure. The choice of things to include and how they are arranged is an important part of the process for me. I’m not trying to depict conventional reality, but to create an image of an already orchestrated, symbolic world.

“I have a self-contained studio space, so luckily I have been able to work there over the last year. In the coming months I’m looking forward to showing some work at the Cello Factory, in an exhibition curated by artists Juliette Losq and Alex Hinks.

“An unexpected outcome of the pandemic has been setting up a community interest company called East Side Print with two friends. Once lockdown restrictions are lifted we will be running classes and offering open access sessions from our screen print studio in Brighton.”

Mary Castle-Millner is a multi-disciplinary artist, with a foundation in drawing. Her research projects include residencies in Bangkok, Ayrshire and Vauxhall. Commenting on her selected work Man with a hose, she says: “A man is watering young trees in Bangkok’s hot season, there’s a forest of saplings; he is almost invisible yet the focus of a painting about identity and the environment.

“He wears a uniform shirt marked ‘N’, his employer, or perhaps Nike the Winged Goddess of Victory? The familiar shoe logo is derived from the goddess’ wing, ‘swoosh’, which symbolises the sound of speed, movement, power and motivation.

“The dilemma inherent in the painting balances a vexed and intertwined history with a beautiful tropical landscape. The composition with two doves owes inspiration to Thai temple murals. He sees me painting every day. We do not speak.”

1. Kathryn Maple, The Common, 2020, acrylic on canvas, 222 x 246 cm
2. Matthew Krishanu, Riverboat, 2020, oil on canvas, 200 x 270cm. Photo: Peter Mallet
3. Liz Elton, Tender (detail), compostable cornstarch food waste recycling bags, vegetable dyes from food waste, water colours, water miscible oils, food supplements, earth pigments, compost, seeds from medicinal plants, and silk
4. Sikelela Owen, The Knitter
5. Lindsey Bull, The Moors, 152 x 183cm, oil on linen, 2020
6. Annika Ström, I am Curious Pink. 122 cm x 153 cm Acrylic on Paper. Courtesy: the artist
7. Laura Lancaster, Invocation, 2020. Acrylic on Linen, 24x30cm
8. Charles Williams, Watercolourist Mask, 100 x 75 cm, oil on linen, 2018
9. Rebecca Harper, Between two worlds, 180x210cm, acrylic on Canvas, 2018
10. Louise Bristow, Citizens, 2019, 40 x 80cm, oil on wood panel
11. Mary Castle-Millner, Man with a hose, oil painting on canvas, 224x140cm, 2019