The John Moores Painting Prize is one of the most prestigious art prizes in the UK. It counts David Hockney and Peter Doig among its winners, and Peter Blake, who won the Junior Prize in 1961, is its current patron. Last week, on the opening day of this year's Liverpool biennial, the shortlist was announced at the Walker Art Gallery. Fifty artists selected from 2500 entries made it to the final hang, among them five shortlisted painters Rae Hicks, Juliette Losq, Mandy Payne, Alessandro Raho and Rose Wylie.
Each wins £2,500, but it's not the money that counts; it's the kudos. Payne, a mature student whose work 'Brutal' depicts the 1960s Park Hill estate in Sheffield, created the work for her graduation show this year. Before she won, she didn't have a gallery. She probably does now. Another artist on the shortlist, 80-year-old Rose Wylie, is well known in the art world and has sent works to the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition every year since 1992.
The exhibition occupies three galleries and is hugely popular. More than 50,000 people will visit it before it closes in November. Everything is for sale, and at the opening, many red dots, and a few collectors, were in evidence. 'If you're in the show, it's a real stamp of approval,' says exhibiting artist Tony Noble.
Shortlisted artist Losq, whose entry Vinculum depicts the overgrown exteriors of a derelict railway hut in North London adds: 'The prize sets out to provide a snapshot of what's happening in painting now. You can see that in these rooms.'
Sir John Moores, a philanthropist who founded the Littlewoods department stores, set up the prize in 1957. The jury still consists predominantly of artists and has stayed true to its founding principles - those of championing contemporary painting in all its forms. The overall winner receives £25,000 and will be announced on 19 September.