Nicholas Baldion has been awarded the John Moores Painting Prize 2023 Visitors’ Choice award for his powerful depiction of the Grenfell Tower tragedy.
Social Murder: Grenfell in Three Parts is a triptych that tells the story of what happened before and after the 2017 fire which destroyed the Grenfell Tower residential block in London, claiming the lives of 72 people.
The middle panel shows the tower on the night of the fire. When the triptych is closed, the Green Heart, a symbol of Grenfell, is visible. The writing on the reverse was added by members of the local community in London, and attendees of a talk held by the artist at the Walker Art Gallery in October 2023.
Visitors have been able to vote for their favourite painting within the John Moores Painting Prize exhibition since it opened in September 2023 – a vote in which Baldion has emerged as the winner.
Voters praised the “striking, emotional” nature of the painting, highlighting the importance of the story it tells and the moving subject matter. One visitor said the painting “stopped them in their tracks and brought them to tears,” with another complimenting how it evokes anger, betrayal, grief and the power of community all in one artwork.
Nicholas Baldion said, “It’s a real honour to have won the Visitors’ Choice award and I’m incredibly grateful to hear the painting resonated with the public. To me it speaks to the fact that Grenfell has not been forgotten – that others are still as furious as me.”
“Grenfell was a crime that should never have happened, driven by the profit motive inherent in Capitalism. A crime where politicians, civil servants and corporate companies are all complicit. It was social murder, yet over six years on, no one has been brought to justice or faced prison time. The painting was made to tell that story, to educate and move people, and to act as a tool of remembrance and a weapon in the fight for justice and safe homes.”
“It is my hope that the painting continues to live, that it becomes public art and that the testimonies written on the back grow as the painting is added to by future audiences.”
Sandra Penketh, Executive Director of Art Galleries & Collections Care at National Museums Liverpool, said, “We are delighted to award Nicholas Baldion the 2023 Visitors’ Choice award on behalf of our visitors, who were so drawn to this incredible painting.
“Nicholas’ ambitious work shows just how powerful painting can be emotionally, politically and socially. This work gives a voice to communities and invites us to share our own thoughts and responses to the Grenfell tragedy. It’s a ‘stop you in your tracks’ type of painting, executed with compassion and conviction.
“We would like to thank Rathbones for supporting this popular prize which encourages visitors to carefully consider what makes a great painting.”
The 2023 jury, who selected the 70 exhibited paintings from over 3,300 entries were The White Pube, Alexis Harding, Chila Kumari Singh Burman, Marlene Smith, and Yu Hong. From large-scale canvases, bold in brush strokes and colour, to exquisitely detailed pieces, their selection represents a wide range of styles, united by their use of paint.
The jury awarded Graham Crowley the £25,000 first prize in September 2023 for his work Light Industry. The painting has since been acquired for the Walker Art Gallery’s collection and Graham will hold a solo exhibition at the Walker in 2025.
The four other shortlisted paintings were: Stochastic 14 by Emily Kraus, Other Light by Damian Taylor, Champagne Cascade I by Francisco Valdes, and Visitors’ Choice winner, Social Murder: Grenfell in Three Parts by Nicholas Baldion.
The jury also selected Emma Roche as the winner of the Lady Grantchester Prize, developed to support artists in the early stages of their career. Supported by Winsor & Newton, Emma was awarded £5,000, £2,500 of premium art materials and an exciting residency opportunity.
Previous first prize winners include David Hockney (1967), Mary Martin (1969), Lisa Milroy (1989), Peter Doig (1993), Keith Coventry (2010) and Rose Wylie (2014). Sir Peter Blake, winner of the junior prize in 1961, is Patron of the Prize. The John Moores Painting Prize is organised in partnership with the John Moores Painting Prize Trust.
Image: Social Murder: Grenfell In Three Parts by Nicholas Baldion. Image © Nicholas Baldion, courtesy of National Museums Liverpool