The shortlist for the 25th John Moores Contemporary Painting Prize, which has helped to establish artists including Peter Doig, has been announced.
A record 3,222 paintings submitted to the biennial competition have been whittled down to a final 40.
The winner of the £25,000 contest, which has showcased artists like David Hockney, will be revealed in September.
Competition judge Graham Crowley said: "There's no art for airports or corporate foyers in this show."
The former John Moores prize winner added: "There is a great range in subject matter and context and an urgency to the exhibition that I hadn't anticipated.
"Modern art is inflated with celebrity - this is of a very different order.
"It's not about whimsy and personality, it's actually something much tougher."
He is joined on this year's judging panel by fellow former prize winner Paul Morrison, artists Jake and Dinos Chapman and art critic Sacha Craddock.
The winner will be announced on 20 September.
Liverpool's Walker Art Gallery will exhibit the shortlisted works from then until 4 January.
Four runners-up will each receive £2,500 while the winner of the visitors' choice prize will be £2,800.
Previous judges have included singer Jarvis Cocker, feminist writer Germaine Greer and artist Tracey Emin.