At the Jerwood Gallery: Revisiting the Jerwood Painting Prize

“Two Plus One Plus One” by Lisa Milroy – on the BBC website

The Jerwood Painting Prize ran from a decade between 1994 and 2003 when it was the most valuable prize available in Britain.  The winner won £30,000 and the focus on the prize was on showcasing the diversity and quality of painting in Britain and on revitalising painting as an art form in Britain.  Noble aims and this small survey in Hastings offers a useful assessment of how close they came to achieving it.

For such a bijou show there really is a wide range here.  You’d say broad canvas if you were planning on labouring a pun.  All of it is good.  And perhaps calling it good indicates a problem.  The Jerwood Painting Prize ran during the days of Cool Britannia when YBAs were dominating the discourse.  Good is not going to cut it in the face of provocative and shocking.  What the Prize, as shown here, lacks is something great to stand up to the tidal wave of deliberately divisive conceptualism it was up against.

But what is here is worth seeking out. In particular, I loved the work of Katie Pratt who won in 2001.  Delphinium overwhelms.  It is colour and it deceives you into thinking you’re looking at a figurative work but, step into it, and it’s pure abstract feeling.  It is adjacent to an odd almost still life piece of four vase-like vessels by Lisa Milroy.  This neat piece of curating does as good a job as any of showing the diversity of painting as an art form in this country.  Other artists covered include Maggi Hambling, Prunella Clough and the first ever prize winner Craigie Aitchison, alongside a diverse and compelling selection.

So, another decent showing from the Jerwood, drawing on its own collection to showcase the best of contemporary art.  I’m starting to like this place – and not just for the coffee.

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