For the second year in a row, we were delighted to partner with the Affordable Art Fair Hampstead to exhibit a selection of shortlisted artworks from Jackson’s Open Painting Prize 2019. The 14 chosen artworks were hung in salon-style on deep navy blue walls, creating an elegant space within the temporary gallery. The exhibition was accompanied by a panel talk featuring some of the artists involved in the competition. This year, four of the artworks in Jackson’s stand were purchased by art buyers at the Fair, with thousands more viewing the exhibition.
Claire Cansick, Rosso Emerald Crimson, Fiona Long, Catherine MacDiarmid, Mark McLaughlin, James Moore, Iain Nicholls, Jennifer Niuewland, Stephen Palmer, Nadja Gabriela Plein, Paul Smith, Paul Stone, Polly Townsend, Judith Tucker.
As part of our exhibition at the Affordable Art Fair Hampstead, we held a panel talk, chaired by Tegen Hager-Suart of the Jackson’s Competitions Team, featuring three artists who have been involved with Jackson’s Open Painting Prize over the past couple of years: Iain Nicholls, Overall Winner 2019; Nadja Gabriela Plein, Shortlisted Artist 2018 & 2019 and Abstract/Non-representational Category Prize Winner 2019; and Tom Down, Shortlisted Artist 2016, Overall Winner 2018 and Expert Judge 2019.
It was fascinating to hear about each panellist’s personal experience of the competition and to find out more about their creative processes, desert island art material choices and childhood memories of their first moments of creative self-awareness. The discussion took place in the afternoon of Sunday 12th May, in the peace and calm of the Affordable Art Fair’s Re-Balance Room, situated alongside the water that runs through Hampstead Heath.
Tegen: Hello everyone and welcome to all our panellists. Could each of you explain your practice and what you do? Nadja, would you like to start?
Nadja: My painting practice overlaps with my Buddhist meditation and really asks questions regarding the interaction between the painter and the material. So, on one hand, there is a careful observation of the material itself. How is this specific paint behaving today on this specific surface and when drawn with this specific brush? On the other hand, there is also a careful observation of the painter, so, me, what do I bring to this process and to this painting? I’m really interested in the idea of subjectivity not being something fixed and unchanging but something that is always in flux, so just like the materials are not the same every day but always different because of changing conditions, so is the painter changing. It’s this place of change, of flux, that interests me. That’s really the place of my practice.
Tegen: Tom, can you talk us through your work?
Tom: My work tends to involve references to romantic landscapes. I’ve looked at various things throughout the years like TV, advertising, historic paintings, film, anywhere else where we see these overly romanticised landscapes. I take them as a starting point and then construct little reference models to the landscape out of cardboard, paper and paint. So, it may be a rock, a tree or a little scene but I construct them slightly rubbish, deliberately, designed to be quite fake. I then light them, photograph them and work from the photographs. It’s almost like working from a theatre set, but a little miniature version. The paintings are then quite far removed from the actual object itself. There is another layer of transmission. I’m trying to take what is essentially a basic model or scene and elevate it, using paint and light, to an epic notion.
Tegen: And finally, Iain, how about you?
Iain: Well the winning painting for the Jackson’s Open Painting Prize is a landscape painting. I do two or three different types of work. I paint from the landscape and my imagination. In the last few years, I’ve been making virtual reality worlds, painting from worlds which I create. When it comes to the landscape, I like having a subject, but I like to be able to use my imagination in the painting. The painting is just as important as the subject. I’ve tried for years to bring abstract or imaginative work together with subjects – real things that I’ve seen in the world that I love to look at and I think, “that will make a good painting” and I’ve not been able to do it, but I think with age, you just don’t care anymore and you do what you like. At the moment I’m painting from my imagination using an iPad and making virtual worlds, but in about 6 months I’ll probably run out of steam with that and go back to landscape painting. I am really interested in painting itself rather than the subject. The things that attract me are shadows, shapes and colours, rather than the need to capture the emotion of something. I also paint pictures upside down quite a lot just to keep things exciting.
Tegen: I can definitely see the elements that come into your practice when I look at your work; landscape, imagination and painting upside down. With all three of our panellists, you can really feel the process in their finished work. Nadja and Iain, how did you select the work you entered into the competition?
Nadja: Well this specific painting, I made a couple of years ago and sometimes I take out paintings and have them in the studio again deliberately, because, in a way, I feel like looking at work that I’ve done and put away again is a little bit like looking at a map, you know when you’ve been on a long journey and you look back over where you’ve been. It’s almost like the quality of your looking changes and you see something different that becomes significant that maybe before was something that was just… there. So with this specific painting, that was exactly what happened. I realised there was something important in this painting for what I am doing at the moment. So, when the prize came up, I decided to put it in. It was reaffirming of my path to choose this painting.
Tegen: We looked into the title of your painting, Wechsellied from the Brahms piece, Wechsellied Zum Tanze and the translation means “changing” or “change song” so it’s very interesting that your painting has this new meaning for you. How about you Iain? How did you select your work?
Iain: I put four pictures in altogether that I felt gave a good idea of my figurative landscape work.
Tegen: Tom, you were on the other side of the competition this year. How was it judging works rather than entering them?
Tom: It’s really interesting for me this year because I apply, as an artist, to a lot of similar competitions to Jackson’s Open Painting Prize. So to actually judge one and be on the other side of the table has been really interesting. I think I have learned a lot about the process and it will help me going forward as an artist when I apply for things in the future. We could only choose six out of 420 in the Shortlist and it’s not enough! There were about 30 paintings I would have chosen, so it was a really difficult process to come up with your own Shortlist and then whittle it down to six. There was a lot of work that I didn’t choose in the end, purely because of numbers, but it was nice to see some of those paintings were selected by the other judges and have ended up in the final. It’s nice to realise you’re on a similar level as the other judges.
Tegen: It ended up being quite a cohesive shortlist. We try to choose judges that have a variety of experience to get the most interesting list together as possible. What have you been working on in the last year Tom?
Tom: A continuation of the work I have been making, but I’m just about to start some more ambitious compositions. Historically, I have worked quite small, for example, the work that won Jackson’s Open Painting Prize 2018, is really small, only about 20 x 25 cm. I tend to take a one-to-one scale with the models. I’m not making big paintings of small models, I’m making small paintings of small models. I like that as a process because I’m not interested in making statements on scale. What I do like is the idea of doing more ambitious models and painting these to the scale they are made. It will give me more to get into as a painter and this is what I will be working on over Summer.
Tegen: Wonderful. Iain, I was about to ask, how has the experience of winning the overall prize been? But, before I do, I have some news for you. Your painting has been sold! We just found out before the talk so we thought we would surprise you by telling you here.
Iain: Fantastic! That’s brilliant. Really good news!
Tegen: Does entering the competition or similar competitions encourage you to reflect on your own practice?
Nadja: Yes, I think it does. As I was saying before, looking over old works, you see things in them that you didn’t see before and it can be really invigorating. I find it really useful.
Iain: I don’t see myself as moving forward in a linear way. An analogy I can think of is that it’s like a wheel turning, or a snowball accumulating things. I don’t like leaving anything behind so I’m always reflecting back on my work and asking questions about why I am painting and what I am doing. I’m always looking back.
Tegen: What is the most important artist’s tool for you?
Nadja: I usually have a favourite brush that works just right for drawing but obviously, that brush tends to get overused and breaks and then I need to find a new favourite brush. At the moment, apart from that, I have a small intaglio press in my studio and I am loving making monoprints and exploring brush strokes in that sense. It’s my new baby!
Tegen: Yes, a good printing press is a total love affair!
Iain: Do you mean a desert island tool? I don’t work in pencil and I don’t like rubbing out so I use a pen. If I could have one tool, it would be a black biro and paper.
Tegen: I totally feel you with that. I think mine would be a 4B graphite stick. One of the chunky fellas. Done. How about your desert island materials Tom?
Tom: You know what, I would like to be able to buy pre-prepared canvases that are done to the level that I would like to see them. I’m really anal about the surfaces I work on and it takes me a month to get them sorted. It’s a long time to be painting white, but it’s worth it in the end. I am quite specific about what I like, but I’d need to have them custom made.
Iain: I bought some aluminium from Jackson’s and its really nice to paint on. They’re lovely. Really interesting to paint on. You know what? I’d like an assistant. That would be my tool.
Tegen: I’d like to open it up to the audience now. Does anyone have any questions?
Audience member: Do you remember the first time you realised you were a creative person?
Iain: Yeah, its a really clear memory. I was about four or five years old and I had mumps. My mum got out a roll of wallpaper which, at the time as a child, I imagined to be really huge but in reality, it was quite small. Using reeves gouache paints in jars, I painted out a picture of our local park for my sister who was at university at the time. It’s my earliest memory and we still have the painting.
Nadja: There was no specific moment for me, I think I have always known I was a “creative” person for as long as I remember.
Tom: As long as I can remember I was always building stuff. As a kid I would do junk modelling at school, building things out of toilet roll. Also, loved playing with toys on the creative end of the spectrum like Lego.
Tegen: Well that’s all we have time for. Thank you all so much for coming and taking part. It’s lovely for us to finally see the works in the flesh and also get to chat to you all. It’s been a real pleasure, thank you everyone for coming.