JMPP 2020 - The Judges on Stage 1 and life in lockdown

2020. What a year. How have our JMPP judges found the JMPP experience so far? What kind of artworks have they been drawn towards? Have there been any positives to lockdown?  We caught up with Hurvin Anderson, Jennifer Higgie, Michelle Williams Gamaker and Alison Goldfrapp (digitally, of course) to find out their thoughts on Stage 1 and working during a pandemic.

Article Featured Image

How have you found your JMPP experience so far?

Jennifer: Super interesting, stimulating, eye-opening and difficult. The first round - looking at almost 3,000 images – was daunting but it was an an incredible privilege to witness a snap-shot of painting across the UK.  

Hurvin: We painters love looking at other people’s work and so I’ve really enjoyed this whole selection process. Not just for what we see and how exciting that can be but because of the way it makes me look and think about my own work. 

Michelle: In many ways because of the conditions that we're in with Covid restrictions, so far it's been very much a digital relationship. It's been something that I'm really participating in, but I think I assumed when I said yes to this that I'd be in conversation with people in a physical space. So, it has been a bit dislocated so far. I've absolutely loved being part of John Moores Painting Prize. I think despite saying it's been dislocated, it doesn't mean I haven't felt engaged, I have. It's just I think the real work comes when we're next to the paintings - that's what I imagined it would be and I'm really excited for that to happen. 

What have you found most challenging when selecting paintings in stage 1?

Jennifer: Seeing paintings online as opposed to in the flesh.

Michelle: One of the most challenging parts of Stage 1 judging has been there were really so many applications to go through, and because it was so screen based it was about making sure you gave everybody time. I actually enjoyed the process, I thought I was going to be overwhelmed by having to look at the computer for so long, but the paintings were so varied that it was a really enjoyable thing. 

What type of paintings have you been drawn towards?

Jennifer: The ones that stop me in my tracks – whether through the artist's imaginative subject matter, technical skill, original use of materials or new angle on an old subject.

Hurvin: Not a particular type really but I have been interested in the variety of the subject matters. I’ve also been reminded of the importance titles can have in terms of impact and guiding the viewer … it’s an obvious observation but has more weight in terms of judging when there is no other context for the work. 

Michelle: This is a really tough one because I think I've been drawn towards a number of paintings that are not really about my personal taste. It's been about bold decisions and sometimes even fun paintings, absurd paintings, or quiet paintings, or paintings that aren't too flashy, but things I've not seen before. I know that sounds a bit cliché, but there have been some paintings that I don't understand where the artist is coming from and I really like that. I want to get to know what that artist's wider practice is and those are the paintings that I decided to choose. 

What advice would you give to artists who didn't get selected for stage 2?

Jennifer: Please, please don't be too disheartened. Some works – the more quiet ones, in particular – don't lend themselves well to being seen online or in isolation. It's important to keep painting for the right reasons: because you can't imagine doing anything else. Competitions can be wonderful, but they're in no way the be-all or end-all in terms of judging the ultimate value of a work of art. Remember: Orson Welles never won Best Director at the Oscars.

Hurvin: I’ve also been reminded of the times I’ve been unsuccessful in submitting works to the prize and so I’d encourage those who who haven’t made it to the exhibition stage not to be too disheartened. It’s important to remember that we are just seeing a snapshot, a moment in time and judging based on that and not on someone’s whole practice or archive. It is all so subjective and a different painting or a different panel of judges could produce a totally different outcome. It isn’t failure but a moment to take stock and think about their practice and to try again another time.

Alison: My advice to anyone who didn’t get to stage 2 would be please don’t let this waver your confidence, use this as an opportunity to further develop your work and why not even enter again next year?! There have been artists that entered more than once before being recognised and going on to have incredibly successful careers. 

Michelle: Coming from someone who works mainly in performance and moving image, I personally was never brave enough to paint, and I've always looked to painting as a source of inspiration. So what I saw in all of the applications were really brave decisions and people really taking risks to show their work. I know not everyone makes it through and that can be very disheartening, but you still have painting and you don't necessarily need us to affirm that, so keep going.  

Can you sum up 2020 in three words?

Jennifer: Tragic, confronting, surprising.

Hurvin: There are no words really! But if pushed.. challenging, complicated, intense. 

Michelle: I suppose I'd say it has been grounding, it has been scary, but it's also been hopeful. 

Are there any positives that you will take from lockdown?

Jennifer: Yes, absolutely. Being forced to stop and reflect has been surprisingly rejuvenating. I've also got to know a lot more about my garden – and my love for Yoga with Adriene's online classes knows no bounds. She's kept me sane.

Hurvin: I’ve been enjoying hanging out more with my wife and kids. There’s been so much more time to just spend in the garden with them, just being, not doing so much. The fact that projects have been postponed has meant that there is a bit more quiet in a work sense, this has allowed for some time to concentrate in the studio. I think we’ve all had a chance for reflection on our own lives, on the world and some time to focus on things we want to do in the future. I normally commute to London so it’s been a nice change to not do that for a while.

Alison: Wow....well it was difficult in so many ways wasn’t it? However I did find I reconnected with the power of music, art and nature, and all though I found concentrating for long enough to make any work really quite difficult. I did do a lot of thinking and found calm and joy with things in my immediate surroundings. It reminded me too how socialising is vitally  important for our health and well-being.

Michelle: I think the positives for me with the whole experience of lockdown was that I happened to find a resilience - we experienced COVID earlier on. I suppose that's what I meant by it being scary. I really understood once it became less abstract that we had to get through it and fortunately we did. So, it's been really sobering to understand how fragile we are as humans. It's been one of the those moments where I understood, wow you count your blessings. But I also just learned about slowing down - I'm a real workaholic - so being able to be in the garden, or cook or be with my children has been massive. So I've taken a lot of positives from it.