The John Moores Painting Prize 2012 is the UK’s biggest painting competition, it comprises of 62 paintings from artists based in the UK and, for the first time it also features the prizewinners of the John Moores Painting Prize China. The exhibition is also part of the Liverpool Biennial which runs from 15 September – 25 November 2012.
The exhibition is an eclectic mix, featuring a variety of painting styles, techniques and subjects. From impressionist to abstract, there is something to appeal to everyone’s taste.
The painting that caught my attention was Waiting Room (1) by Jarik Jongman. It’s a dark painting on a white wall surrounded by light and colourful paintings, it grabs your attention because it feels displaced, at odds with its surroundings.
The painting seems gloomy and unfriendly at first sight; a room cast partially in shadow by the light of what could be a dying sun, shining through the window. It appears dilapidated, the walls are peeling, the couches where you sit and wait look uncomfortable, with torn and moth eaten fabric. It appears dirty, a damp cold room with mould nestling into the corners and the cracks of this fading, soulless box. There doesn’t appear to be a door, which suggests that once you’re inside you stay inside, trapped in the shadows with the rotting carcasses of the age old sofas, waiting.
There’s no indication what we’re waiting for in this waiting room, it doesn’t really matter. To know is irrelevant to the moment the picture portrays, it’s the solitary act of waiting that’s important. We’re standing at the fourth wall of the painting, the possible doorway. We stand and observe the painting and we witness a world that we will step into. The waiting room is inevitable, a punctuation point in everyone’s life, we will always end up here and we will wait. Jongman said of the painting that:
- ‘Waiting is something we all do. Almost inevitably, we wait with a purpose. It is a promise that lies in waiting: a reward at the end. Your turn has come, the end of the line, the Kingdom of Heaven perhaps; redemption and eternal life.’
In this sense the waiting room is something none of us can escape. So does this show us something fateful, ‘the end’ in the doomed isolation of a darkened waiting room! It would be easy to see this painting as a portent of something terrible, a horrible lingering certainty of bad news, disease and death. There’s so much darkness, so many shades of grey and black oil on the canvas, that it’s easy to give into the belief that the painting shows us a real sense of hopeless conclusion. However, one wall is a big window, full of orange light and most importantly, one of its windows is open. It offers fresh air in the stagnation of the mouldy sofas, a connection to a world outside with its gentle invading sounds of life. The window serves to remind us that we are alive, that the waiting is a momentary pause from which we can leave. If the darkened corners of the rest of the room become too overbearing, the window is our chance to escape. If this is ‘the end of the line,’ perhaps we can jump out of the window to freedom, perhaps the end is still something we can decide.
Waiting Room (1) is claustrophobic, it’s not showing us the narrative of the lives we lead, that’s the picture you see when you turn and look outside the window. This is something in between, it’s neither living or dying, it is simply waiting for one or the other to happen. Despite its lack of occupants, its patients or interviewees, it has the weight of humanity that is all the more pressing because it seems so absent. You get a real sense that people have passed through this room, the seats are still warm and the tension of the former inhabitants, the pacers and sitters, twitchers and smokers, claws its way across the walls and takes refuge in the shadow, away from the hope and salvation that the sun brings.
Seeing this painting across a gallery for the first time is spectacular. Its limited palette makes it rely on the subtle play of shade variants, and the stark contrast of light against dark oil. The painting displays confidence, it doesn’t try to impress with grand gestures and bold strokes, it also doesn’t try to explain itself to the viewer. Like every great artwork, it is altered by the onlookers perception and it’s daring enough to allow this.