Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Israeli artist Matan Ben Cnaan wins BP Portrait Prize 2015

The winners of the prizes at the BP Portrait Awards Ceremony last night are as follows....

BP Portrait Award 2015 - £30,000 First Prize


35-year-old Israeli artist Matan Ben-Cnaan won the £30,000 first prize and a commission worth £5,000 for his painting of Annabelle and Guy.

Matan Ben Cnaan, Winner of the BP Portrait 2015 First Prize
with this painting of Annabelle and Guy
Judges’ comments - Annabelle and Guy: ‘The judges were struck by the engaging filmic narrative of this neo-Realist painting and the unnerving atmosphere that surrounds it. The painting’s setting and the treatment of intense light and deep shadow was much admired.’
Apparently in addition to not knowing who painted the portrait, the judges also know nothing of the story behind the painting when judging.

This portrait is a contemporary reworking of the echo of the Biblical story of Jephthah.
In this story an Israelite judge vowed on entering battle that should he win, he will sacrifice the first thing that greets him upon his home-coming, believing it to be a dog. However, on his return, it is his daughter who rushes out in welcome. Realising the tragic mistake he has made, he upholds his vow and sacrifices his child.
I think it's fair to say that not everybody would be familiar with the story despite the fact that it's been the subject of many paintings over the year (check out the Internet as I just did for Jephthah's vow). However if you have renowned art historian Simon Schama on the panel of Judges it's very unlikely he didn't recognise the allegorical content.

I think it's also unusual in that it's set out to be an allegorical painting of a historical story as opposed to a contemporary portrait of two people and their dog.  It's always good to see paintings with content!

BP Portrait Award First Prize - Presentation Ceremony
(Left to right) Simon Schama, Matan Ben Cnaan, Dr Nicholas Cullinan
(the new Director of the National Portrait Gallery) and Carl-Henric Svanberg the Chairman of BP
TIP for future BP entries:

  • Think about the story about your portrait - and whether that portrait tells that story
  • Think about the judges and what they might bring to the choice of content
  • There's one point about the painting which the judges don't appear to have noticed - and to be honest neither did I. However other artists who have entered the competition have keener eyes and have been commenting about the missing shadows from the chair legs. So check your shadows before you submit your entry!

Second Prize: £10,000

Winner of the BP Portrait Award Second Prize (£10,000) - Michael Gaskell
with his portrait of Eliza
Judges’ comments - Eliza: ‘The judges agreed that this is a highly accomplished portrait, revealing the influence of Vermeer and Dutch seventeenth-century paintings while also a having a seemingly modern, timeless quality.’
An audible groan went up from the audience last night when people realised that Simon Schama, who was announcing the prizes, was starting to describe Michael Gaskell as the second prizewinner.

I don't think Simon Schama quite understood the reason although many in the audience did.

The reason being - besides lots of people liking his portrait - was because Michael has won the BP portrait award second prize THREE times before. I spoke to him beforehand and he wasn't optimistic about winning and I guess that's the way to play it if you have been so near and yet missed out so many times before.

However the good thing is he hasn't entered for five years - since the last time he won second prize - and he's in the top three again!  That's quite some record!

He's even switched from oils to acrylics and believe it or not taught himself how to paint with acrylics with this painting! (I'll be checking this out with him in my interview with him this morning).

Eliza is a second portrait of his niece Eliza. She sat for him in early 2014 at the age of 14, having first sat for a portrait for her uncle when she was a very small child.  You can see a large digital image of the portrait on his blog
In a lot of significant art competitions, the first prize is £10,000. However in this competition that's the value of the second prize. It's quite some consolation for coming second.

Third Prize £8,000

Spanish artist Borja Buces Renard, 36 won the third prize of £8,000 for My Mother and My Brother on a Sunday Evening.

Winner of the BP Portrait Award 3rd Prize (£7,000) - Borja Buces Renard
for his painting My Mother and My Brother on a Sunday Evening.
Judges’ comments - My Mother and My Brother on a Sunday Evening: ‘The judges were drawn to the intensity of the relationship depicted between this couple, which was assumed to be that of mother and son. There was much admiration for the loose, unfinished quality of the painting.’
This is a portrait of his mother Paloma and his brother Jaime in the living room of his parents’ house. His father who had been ill for some time passed away a few weeks after the painting was finished.

You can read more about the paintings of the prize-winning artists in my earlier blog post Shortlist for £30000 BP Portrait Award 2015 announced

Young Artist of the Year

New York based artist Eleana Antonaki, 25, won The BP Young Artist Award for a portrait of her friend and emerging artist Julie Laenkhom

Eleana Antonaki - Winner of the BP Portrait 2015 - The Young Artist Award
Judges’ comments – J.: ‘The judges were intrigued by the enigmatic, futuristic narrative of this painting, which was quite unlike any other in the competition. They felt that this portrait successfully explores the isolation of contemporary life.’

BP Travel Award 2015


French artist Magali Cazo won the BP Travel Award 2015

She proposes to travel to a community of bronze-smelters in Bobo-Dioulasso, Burkina Faso, West Africa. Magali was inspired by the vivid colours of the landscape, the architecture and the clothes on a previous visit to Bobo-Dioulasso. Her work will be displayed in next year's exhibition

Magali Cazo - Winner of the BP Travel Award 2015

More about the BP Portrait Exhibition 2015


As per usual, this week I will be doing a series of blog posts about the exhibition including:

  • video interviews with the prizewinners
  • a post about the exhibition by the winner of the BP Travel Award 2014
  • a review of and video walk around the exhibition

Don't forget to check back to read more about this very prestigious competition

The BP Portrait Award 2015 Exhibition opens to the public on Thursday at the National Portrait Gallery.

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