Art stories: Mandy Payne

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How did you hear about John Moores Painting Prize before you had entered?  

Art is a second career for me, so I am a bit of a late starter. I graduated from Nottingham University in 2013 after studying art part-time, and I remembered one of my tutors talking about the John Moores during our last term there. He encouraged any painters within our group to have a go. I was aware of the competition, having visited the exhibition in previous years, but would never seriously have considered entering it myself without his active encouragement.

How would you describe your John Moores experience?  

It was absolutely amazing, if a little surreal…I was astounded to have made the shortlist and felt a complete imposter when I pitched up to the opening and recognised some really big name artists there. Then, to find out I’d won a prize with a painting I’d had in my degree show seemed just unbelievable. It was especially important to me as I had recently given up a long career in the NHS to paint full-time, and it validated that difficult decision. One thing I remember particularly was how warm, friendly and inclusive the Walker Art Gallery staff were, especially as I was feeling so out of place. I recall one of them saying that once you had been in the competition ‘you were part of the JM family’, this has stayed with me and it felt very special.  

How has your practice developed since being in JMPP?  

Being in the JMPP was really pivotal to my career as it led to quite a few further collaborations and opportunities, one of them being a 27-month residency at Leicester Print Workshop to learn stone lithography. Since then, although my practice is still predominantly painting based, I have tried to carry on working in lithography when time permits. I’m still painting on concrete (which was what my submission ‘Brutal’ was constructed of) and still exploring the same themes of gentrification, social housing, inequality, failed utopias and Modernist architecture. The work that was accepted in the JMPP focused on the Park Hill estate in Sheffield but limited public access there has led me to explore similar sites and buildings in London, Salford, Huddersfield, Manchester and the North East.    

Brutal by Mandy Payne
Image: Brutal by Mandy Payne, Prize winning painting from JM2014. Aerosol sprain concrete with wooden frame, 32.7 x 46.5cm

What do you think about the addition of the new Emerging Art Prize this year?  

I think it’s fantastic, not only will there be very welcome prize money, but also materials and a month residency. When you first graduate, it’s so difficult to maintain an arts practice on so many levels and this prize will be invaluable for the lucky winner.   

What advice would you give to any graduates or final year students who are thinking of entering the John Moores Painting Prize this year?  

JUST HAVE A GO! Follow your gut instinct and select what you feel is the best work you have. If you get work to the next stage, check out past catalogues to see how previous entrants have described their works and written their statements. I appreciate that it’s a £30 entry fee and money will be tight, however, one of the key things about the JMPP is its diversity and the broad breadth of painting that it encompasses, this, together with the fact that each work is judged anonymously means everybody is on an equal footing.    

What are you currently working on?

I have been collaborating with another artist and a photographer working on an estate in London which is undergoing gentrification. We have run drawing and print workshops for young residents on the estate documenting places of importance to them and their responses as these spaces cease to be. A selection of their work together with our own will be exhibited at the ASC Gallery, London, later in the year. I also have a small exhibition at the Manchester Modernist Society in June where I am collaborating with a poet, so I am busy making new work for that.    

What inspires you?

Everything and anything, but I am predominantly interested in what we miss, what we usually ignore, little things that are often under the radar, the mundane and everyday, which when viewed from a different angle, or close up may take on a different nuance.     

What's on your current playlist in the studio?  

I usually have Radio 4 or 5 on or listen to a podcast, although how much I take in depends on how much I’m concentrating on my work, otherwise I will have my playlist on which has a varied mix of rock, punk, pop and indie. Other times I am happy with just my thoughts and quietness.  

Who is your favourite artist? 

I find this an almost impossible question to answer - I have so many, but the list would have to include, Euan Uglow for his geometrical almost sculptural approach to painting, Giorgio Morandi for his elevation of the ordinary and his dedication to repetition and Kathe Kollwitz for the sheer rawness and power of the images she produced.  

What is your favourite painting? 

Again, almost impossible to answer, but it would have to be one that I could look at and look at, again and again. Rembrandt’s ‘Young Woman Bathing In A Stream’ is one such painting, only small and at first unassuming, his sensual but expressive handling of paint combined with his complex use of charioscuro as the figure emerges from darkness is just sublime.