Juliette Losq, John Moores 2014 shortlisted artist - guest blog

Juliette Losq and her delicate yet disorientating watercolour painting 'Vinculum' dominates almost an entire wall in the John Moores Painting Prize 2014 exhibition. 'Vinculum' was also firm favourite with visitors who voted in their thousands for the painting to win the Visitors Choice. Here Juliette tells us more about her practice and inspiration.

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What made you enter the John Moores?

The main motivation for me is the prestige of being selected for the exhibition. It's also a great opportunity to show in a public gallery and to show something that is large scale in an exhibition that is not motivated by commercial concerns.

How does it feel to be one of the shortlisted artists for John Moores?

I was absolutely thrilled to be selected.

How does it feel to win the John Moores Visitors' Choice 2014? 

Winning the Visitors Choice award is a fantastic way to conclude the experience of being part of John Moores 2014. It means a great deal that visitors to the Walker have taken the time to vote for my painting, 'Vinculum' and that it has struck a chord with them in some way.

For me, personally, the setting of the Walker provided a forum in which I could show a large scale work. The painting is nearly two and a half by three meters. It has been shown once before in Paris, and was too tall for the gallery setting so had to be draped partially on the floor. The fact that people were able to see the work in person, as opposed to in reproduction, was also a major advantage: in reproduction my drawings often look like photographs themselves, due to scale and resolution, but the work is not photorealistic when seen up close.

In fact I deliberately leave evidence of the painting's construction within the composition – the white areas are the raw paper, and the method of painting that I use dissolves the image the closer you stand next to it. I reference the technique of etching when building up the image with layers of masking fluid and watercolour or ink, which is where the visual similarity with etching originates. I also looked at the techniques of various other artists when I developed my own style.

If you look at the landscapes in Pre-Raphaelite painting in close proximity they begin to dissolve into carefully placed colours which either enrich or enliven each other, which is something that I think about when placing colours next to each other and breaking areas of colour up with subtly placed complementary colours.

Pre-Raphaelite paintings are often compared to tapestries, perhaps because they are composed of this network of coloured strokes, and it was interesting to have my work in the context of the amazing collection of paintings by these artists in the Walker. I also enjoyed seeing Grayson Perry’s incredibly detailed tapestries during one of my visits to the gallery.

Detail features heavily in the majority of my paintings. Within 'Vinculum' are “hidden” various images from Penny Dreadful and Victorian newspaper illustrations. Speaking to one of the gallery attendants before I gave a talk about my work, he told me he and various other visitors were convinced that they could see snakes in the leaves.

During the talk I revealed that there is actually an octopus, from an article in the 'Illustrated Police News', 'The Deadly Embrace of a Devil Fish' (1878). He felt vindicated but said he hadn’t noticed the strange hovering rabbit-hieroglyph on the pipework.

I enjoy the fact that some viewers will notice these things while others focus on the painting as a landscape, or even on the technique of watercolour used.

Other visitors have noticed things that I am not even aware of: a visitor came up to me after my talk and pointed out a severed pig’s head! One of the most exciting things about the John Moores Prize is that you are able to show your work to large numbers of people who have never seen it before, it's an opportunity for all of the participating artists to gain a broader audience for their work in a fantastic setting.

Do you have a favourite John Moores winner?

Michael Raedecker is someone whose work I have always admired.

Are art prizes important? Art prizes are important in the sense that they enable emerging artists to show alongside very established artists. They give people a forum to show in that is not commercial, which might free people up to submit more experimental work.

Why paint?

I enjoy the process of building up my paintings. I like to read up about colour theory and mixing techniques, and to challenge myself in terms of applying these to increasingly large scale and detailed work.  

Tell us a bit about your studio space.

My studio space is a mess. As I work with masking fluid and water-based mediums I work out of plastic cups. I don't use a palette. Often I kick these cups over leaving pools of ink all over the floor. Masking fluid is derivative of latex. It sticks to brushes and surfaces. When you remove it from paper it creates a moss-like residue which tends to collect all over my floor. A tutor once thought she was seeing multiple spiders!

Do you have a routine when you paint?

I am in the studio five days per week on average (I teach twice a week). I arrive between 9 and 10am. I try and plan out my day so that a natural break will occur at lunch, where I can go off and leave something to dry. Working with very wet media means that a lot of time is spent waiting for it to be dry enough to paint over. I leave the studio any time between 8 and 10pm. I'm lucky enough to live near my studio, but I spend far more time in the studio than my flat, so would say that the studio feels more like home.

Do you listen to anything when you paint?

I like to have voices in the background while I am working, so often listen to the radio and occasionally daytime TV. I do like to have music on sometimes. I generally rely on YouTube playlists. I work better to familiar music, perhaps that I have grown up with in the background at home - so 50s and 60s music seems to crop up quite a lot.