LIVERPOOL.- In Britain the art of painting is alive and bursting with ideas Alan Yentob, judge.
Manchester-born Sarah Pickstone has won the John Moores Painting Prize, British painting's most prestigious title.
The £25,000 first prize was awarded by Sir Peter Blake (patron, and winner of the junior prize in 1961) to Sarah for her intriguing work, Stevie Smith and the Willow.
A major part of the Liverpool Biennial, the John Moores Painting Prize runs until 6 January 2013. Sarahs remarkable work is now on display with the 61 other paintings, including the four additional prize winners, selected from more than 3,000 entries.
Sarahs winning work is inspired by Stevie Smith's enigmatic illustration to accompany her poem Not Waving But Drowning (1957), published the same year as the first ever John Moores.
The large piece (198.3cm x 229 cm) is a depiction of Smith's beguiling figure, engulfed by the drooping branches of a weeping willow tree and delicate reflections in the water. It is a mixture of oil, enamel and acrylic paint on an aluminium panel.
Sarah, who was also a John Moores prize winner in 2004, explains her motives: [The painting is] ...from a series of works which nod to a creative communality.
Smith was definitely an original, whose poems (and pictures) make a confluence of comic and metaphysic. In the painting, the girl (artist, poet, reader, child) bathes in the water under an old weeping willow: part tree, part self, part story, part rebirth.
Judge Fiona Banner described the winning painting: It's a representation of the poet Stevie Smith in a deranged landscape. It's also a painting of one artist reflected through another, a meeting of literary and pictorial minds - an enigmatic double portrait that grapples with the creative self.
Judge George Shaw reveals his first impression of Stevie Smith and the Willow: I couldn't resist this Ophelia, enlarged like all gestures of doomed romance into everlasting drama. Or perhaps as a viewer I'm cast as dirty old Actaeon getting an eyeful of the bathing Diana in the woods and it is me who is doomed. I don't know who made it or why, but its simplicity and scale is admirable and memorable. Of course the title tells me it's Stevie Smith so death, as in all half-decent painting, lurks in each corner. I want to know more but I'm strangely contented this time with what I'm given.
Other winners in the competitions history have included David Hockney (1967), Richard Hamilton (joint 1969), Mary Martin (1969) and Peter Doig (1993).
The four other prize winners each receive £2,500. In alphabetical order they are: The Greater Light by Biggs & Collings, M is many by Ian Law, Gallery by Stephen Nicholas and Untitled Kerbstone Painting (MJK) by Narbi Price.
Down the Acapulco by Wayne Clough was also given a special commendation by the judges.
Judge Alan Yentob said: It was exhilarating to discover, in the course of viewing so much of the work submitted for this year's John Moores, that in Britain the art of painting is alive and well and bursting with ideas.
The selection was tough because the quality was high, but the jury was especially impressed and heartened by the creativity and conviction on display in the final five prize winners. Yes, painting still matters.
John Moores Painting Prize 2012 judges were Fiona Banner (artist), Iwona Blazwick (Director of the Whitechapel), Angela de la Cruz (artist), George Shaw (artist) and Alan Yentob (Creative Director of the BBC).