This year’s shortlistees for Britain’s top contemporary art prize - £25,000 to the winner, £5,000 to each to the runners-up – include a Brummie painter of barbershop scenes, a German-born artist making prints from the greasy smears on her phone screen, a Preston-based veteran of the Black Arts scene and a film-maker specialising in troubled domestic subjects who, while of Palestinian-Irish descent, is actually from Croydon.
If this cosmopolitan line-up fails to provide the kind of spectacular headline-grabbing works 0 gimmicks is another way of putting it – for with the Turner is notorious (last year’s show included a doorway in the form of an enormous pair of buttocks), it does reveal something that is almost more surprising.
Last year’s Tuner Prize shortlist heralded what looked suspiciously like the return of sculpture – stuff that was physically present in the gallery after years of empty rooms, off-site projects, films and performance – this year we have what looks almost unnervingly like the return of painting. However, if your taste err towards the more traditional, don’t book your ticket to Hull for the exhibition, which opens on September 26, quite yet. In the world of the Turner Prize, terms such as “painting” are highly relative.
This year, the prize’s rules have been changed: the under-fifties-only age limit has been scrapped, and the shortlist conspicuously reflects this, with all the artists over the age of 40, and one aged 62.
Birmingham-born, of Jamaican parents, Hurvin Anderson, 52, is the nearest to a straight-up painter, with his interiors of that great meeting place of Afro-Caribbean culture and embattled male identity, the barber shop. From Anderson’s viewpoint, the stacks of toiletries on the barber’s shelves take on an altar-like appearance, while the hairstyles images on the walls transmogrify into black heroes such as Martin Luther King and Malcom X.
Stuttgart-born Andrea Büttner, 45, likes to display her paintings and prints, which might loosely be described as abstract, low to the ground, their scales dictated by the limits of her own stature and physical reach. The fact that she is not, you surmise, tall, may explain her preoccupation with themes of “shame, vulnerability and embarrassment”.
Ever since the Eighties, Lubaina Himid, 62, born in Zanzibar, but trained at Wimbledon College of Art, has been celebrating the centuries-long but undersung black presence in British life and culture.
Her installation, Naming the Money, includes 100 life-size cut-out figures of labourers, servants and musicians in an exuberant, almost balletic tableau.
Rosalind Nashashibi, 43, paints and makes prints, but is nominated for two films, focusing on the maintenance of domestic stability in extreme circumstances: among families in war-torn Gaza and between an English mother and daughter living in the wilds of Guatemala.
As with all Turner Prize shortlists, it’s only when we see the work that we’ll be able to gauge its quality and interest, and at this stage there’s nothing to suggest that any of these artists is an obvious winner.