How important is painting in a century increasingly dominated by digital media? We spoke to White Cube gallery’s director of exhibitions and John Moores Prize 2014 judge Tim Marlow…
The Double Negative: How did your involvement as judge for the John Moores Prize come about?
Tim Marlow: I don’t know. I was asked to be a judge! I filmed it some time ago … and I’ve been coming for a long time – actually, I don’t know if I’m allowed to say this, but I’ve bought work from the prize. There’s a lot of phenomenally good work – it’s a great place to look if you’re collecting. Perhaps they noticed.
Who have bought, if you don’t mind us asking?
I bought a Narbi Price painting – I think he’s a very interesting artist and then I also bought a Leo Fitzmaurice painting. A tiny canvas painted and folded to look like a nail box. I should note I won’t be buying this year – ethically I couldn’t do that.
A quote that’s used often is that it’s the Oscars of painting prizes. What are your expectations?
Often with art prizes … I try not to over-anticipate and go in with too high an expectation, but I think with John Moores you have every right to expect something pretty good. It’s one of the reasons I’m fascinated and delighted to be doing it – I want to survey something of the landscape of British painting at the moment.
How important is it nationally and what does it say about painting?
The prize is self-evidently important. I think it’s sustained its reputation from the beginning. Most interestingly it’s ridden that period where painting has ludicrously been read its death rights … clearly painting is a survivor. John Moores has something to do with that [and] here should be a lot of pride taken in that.
You could probably argue that for 1200 years, painting was the dominant visual media in western art and now it’s just one [of them]. It’s a statement of fact. Whereas people tried to say painting was dead, it isn’t. It’s a resilient sustained medium. Even more so than books – there’s something primordial about human beings’ need to make marks. As a critical self-reinvigorated expansive expressive way of trying to make sense of what it is to be alive … painting is as good as any visual medium.
Can you think of a specific painter expressing that?
Goya! He still does it for me. There are numerous painters currently practicing that help complete that kind of picture. Because of the expansive nature of the art world, it’s difficult to say there’s one or two people. There will be numerous people that help make up that picture.
Do you have a favourite past winner?
Looking back, I love the Roger Hilton painting [March 1963]. It’s as much the painting as the painter. I love the Hockney, it’s one of the most celebrated in the Walker collection. The Doig, seeing Peter Doig’s work … it’s a great painting. What amazes me is it’s such a strong list, but I love the fact there are still surprises in there.
When the Turner Prize began, the initial shortlist all went on to win the prize in the next 6 years with the exception of Tony Cragg. They’re all really good artists, but it was clear the Turner prize was just ticking boxes. Each year John Moores throws up surprises; you can’t say who’s gonna win. I like the fact some, well many people have gone on to have reputations.
What are you looking for in a winner?
We’re judging individual work not reputations. That in itself is significant. I’m as interested in what my fellow judges think as what I think … it’s a really good judging panel, three seriously good painters [Lynette Yiadom-Boakye, Zeng Fanzhi and Chantal Joffe], all of whom’s work I admire. For a man who talks a bit much, I’m gonna listen a lot this year.
How do you recognize what you’re looking for? It’s a difficult thing to say. Something that somehow seems to have something to say about either the world in which we live or the medium in which it’s created. There’s a lot to be said for people maintaining a level – you can’t always produce epoch-making paintings. It’s perfectly possible to continue a body of work that comes to the fore.
In the best British tradition, I hope the taking part is more important than the winning – a well selected, well curated, well hung exhibition. Who wins or not is of course part of the point… I hope just being in the exhibition counts for quite a lot. One of the motivations for people is getting publicly shown.
One of the painters who excites me most is Lynette, but she’s on the panel!