From 12th February until 27th June this year, the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool is home to an exhibition of the 67 paintings that make up the John Moores Painting Prize 2020 longlist. In its more than 60 year history the Prize has evolved but one fundamental rule has remained the same; paintings are judged anonymously, allowing the works to speak for themselves and giving the process and final exhibition a unique authenticity.
Currently closed physically to the public, but available to view online, this year’s exhibition demonstrates the power of art to tell our stories, and the endless ways paint can move and inspire us. From large scale canvases, bold in brush strokes and colour, to exquisitely detailed pieces, the exhibition covers a wide range of styles, united by their use of paint.
Inclusion in this exhibition is no minor feat, with almost 3,000 artworks competing for a place on the longlist. The prestigious and anonymous competition showcases some of the most exciting contemporary British painting, and is intended this year to form a key part of the Liverpool Biennial (20th March – 6th June 2021). We were therefore excited to learn that among the 67 successful entrants is social realist painter and TNG member Peter Davis with his painting, Wetin Dey.
Davis’ unique style of portraiture hangs alongside a range of landscapes, figurative works and scenes from the natural world to create a picture of the many painting styles in the UK today. This is one of the UK’s most celebrated and well-known painting competitions, with past winners including Patrick Heron, David Hockney, Euan Uglow and Peter Doig. The 2020 longlistees were selected by a diverse group of creative influencers and artists including Gu Wenda, Hurvin Anderson, Michelle Williams Gamaker, Alison Goldfrapp and Jennifer Higgie.
This year, all judging was carried out online, an action taken for the first time in the history of the Prize following Liverpool’s move into Tier 3 Lockdown as a result of coronavirus. The judges were allowed to experience the detail, scale and texture of the works in real-time through the use of high spec cameras, screens, speakers and AV software. Judges were also able to confer and discuss the works remotely through this system.
Reflecting on the judging process, juror Jennifer Higgie said: “It’s been such a joy to bear witness to the sheer amount of rich and varied paintings being made by so many talented artists in the UK today. It’s also been a privilege to work alongside my fellow jurors and the fine folk in Liverpool. It’s been a real challenge to narrow down our selection not simply because of the inevitable restrictions of the pandemic, but because we were faced with so many varied, imaginative and skilful works of art.”
“‘Wetin dey’ is a portrait of Solomon Onaolapo, a music producer and co-founder of Rising Stars North West, a community project that provides support for aspiring young musicians who are disadvantaged and unable to afford a rehearsal and recording space themselves. The initial portrait sitting took place in his rehearsal space in Stockport and I completed the painting in my studio.
“This piece is part of an ongoing series that I am doing that holds a mirror up to our society and, in particular, our relationship with personal technology. I hope the more you look at my work, the more you see in it.
“Solomon’s smartphone is an important element in the composition. Rather like the young musicians that he’s helping to give a platform to, social media has become a powerful and positive tool that can connect the like-minded, amplify their voice and drive social change.
“The title, ‘Wetin dey’, is a Nigerian Pidgin greeting that means “Hey, what’s going on?” I chose this title to hint to a deeper narrative about anachronistic stereotyping and the civil changes happening around the world.
“I have revered the John Moores Painting Prize for such a long time. When I was a child, my Mum and I would make the pilgrimage to Liverpool to see the exhibition every time it came round. Back then, it was inconceivable to think that one day I would have a painting selected for the show. To be honest, I don’t think I’ll believe it until The Walker reopens after lockdown and I can actually see it on the walls of the gallery with my own eyes.” Peter Davis