At the last New Light Prize Exhibition, we decided to do something we’d never done before by launching a Visitors’ Choice Award at each of the three venues. We were intrigued to see whether people visiting the galleries would agree with the judges – or cast their vote for something else entirely.

The first was awarded at the Bowes Museum where, as with this year’s Prize Exhibition, everyone had the chance to see all the short-listed works for the very first time. And the winner was… James Naughton with his oil painting ‘Cave’ .

James Naughton, 'Cave'

James Naughton, ‘Cave’

We spoke to James about his work and winning the visitors’ vote.

How long have you been a practising artist?
I’ve been a practising artist professionally for nearly 20 years

How did you first hear about New Light?
A good friend of mine, Emerson Mayes, has been involved with the charity since its conception. It’s been very interesting to see its development and be involved at various stages.

What made you decide to enter the Prize Exhibition?
I think it’s a fantastic showcase for artists working in North, and it’s great to highlight the quality of work which is being made here and to make it more accessible to the public.

James at work in his studio

James at work in his studio

What did winning the Visitors’ Choice Award at the Bowes Museum mean to you?
It was the icing on the cake! The exhibition enabled me to produce some work which was different from what I’m well known for creating – and the Visitors’ Choice Award was an emphatic confirmation that these paintings could resonate with a wider audience.

What are your artistic plans for the future?
I just want to keep painting, but have a few ideas for interesting projects which are bubbling away at the minute. Matthew Hall, who was a judge for the Prize Exhibition, saw my work at the Bowes Museum and offered me a solo show at Panter & Hall (where he’s one of the gallery’s directors), so that’s coming up this Autumn.

If you had to recommend one place in the North for someone to visit, where would it be?
One of my favourite places quite near my home in Bolton is Rivington Gardens, which is a collection of ornamental gardens and structures built by Lord Leverhulme in the early 1900s. The experience feels both like a real journey into the passing of our industrial heritage and a more romantic path of the imagination across bridges, ravines and lagoons – all the way to secret towers.

Rivington Gardens. Photo credit: dep

Rivington Gardens. Photo credit: dep

There’s a wonderful contrast in topography, too; the gardens are set in dense woodland but, on a clear day, offer expansive views out across some beautiful moorland and the mountains of North Wales.

If you could take one piece of artwork to a desert island, what would it be and why?
The self-portrait of Rembrandt, which you can see in the National Gallery. It’s a humble pose and he looks world-weary, but it’s an overwhelming evocation of love and experience. The work would also remind of many happy trips to my favourite city.

Rembrandt, 'Self Portrait'

Rembrandt, ‘Self-Portrait’

Anything else you’d like to tell us?
Best of luck to all the artists and New Light for the Prize Exhibition this year!

www.jamesnaughton.com