Alex Harding - 'Slump/Fear'John Moores 23

The Walker Art Gallery
18th September - 28th November 2004

Reviewed by Adam Ford

There were nearly two thousand entries for this year’s John Moores 23 award. Judges including Pulp singer Jarvis Cocker then whittled these down to four hundred and then the 56 to be exhibited for the Biennial. The collection encompasses a wide variety of styles - from almost photographic realism to the most incomprehensible abstract art.

Five prizewinners were selected from the fifty-six exhibits. Alex Harding took the top honour, with 'Slump/Fear' - a ponderous and weighty orange and black combination of oil and gloss on MDF. After applying the paint, Harding waited months for the paint to dry, and it gives the impression of collapsing in on itself. Judging by the name, this was exactly what Harding intended.

In second place is Andrew Grassie’s 'The Making of the Painting' - an incredibly intricate painting of his studio that resembles a photo unless inspected very closely. It clearly took a lot of skill to produce, but then it’s just a picture of a studio, so I found myself wondering 'so what?'

Dougal McKenzie claimed a prize for his 'Last of the French Night Marches (Culloden III)', along with Sarah Pickstone for 'The Park II' and Alex Pollard for 'Outlaw Vortex' - a menacing and sinister manipulation of a Robin Hood portrait that swirls darkly as if the bandit folk hero is being sucked into oblivion!

Other efforts worthy of a special mention include Covadonga Valdés’ 'Hideaway I' - which beautifully captures the light and shade of a secluded wooded glade and made me want to climb into it for a lazy afternoon picnic! Alternately, Susie Hamilton’s 'Flamboyant Jungle' is a frantic and glorious tangle of colours. Unfortunately, the judges found room in the collection for Leo Fitzmaurice’s 'Bayonet' - which consists of a small box of 13mm steel tacks backed by a massive expanse of white that he must have spent literally seconds ‘creating’. It is audacious if nothing else, but drew snorts of derision from almost everyone who saw it.

Considering the prestige (not to mention the £25,000 prize money) attached to the competition, it was disappointing that there is nothing particularly new or exciting on display. Having said that, the standard is generally quite high and it is definitely worth a look.

To view the exhibits online, visit