Friday, June 15, 2007

View the BP Portrait Award 2007 and BP Travel Award 2006 exhibitions

Winner of the BP Portrait Award 2007

Oil on Canvas, 1370 x 1120mm (53 7/8 x 44")
© Paul Emsley
The BP Portrait Award has always had considerable status within the UK as an award for portraiture. This year the rules were changed and the competition was opened up to all artists aged 18 and over living anywhere in the world.

As a result 1,870 people submitted entries for the main prize of £25,000 (an increase of almost 70%) but only 60 were selected for the exhibition - which you can see here. (For a closer look, you also can order a print of any one of them.)

[Update 22.6.07: the caption of the image - and links - have been changed to reflect the announcement that Paul Emsley won the BP Portrait Award 2007]. The four in the top row are the ones shortlisted for the main prize. Having seen these, you need to know that David Lawton's work is small compared to the others.

My personal favourite is the portrait of the artist Michael Simpson by Paul Emsley (see right) simply because this one seemed to tell a story of a person to a much greater degree than the others. (You can see more of Paul Emsley's work on his website here. He is particularly interestd in the quality of form, texture and surfaces and also does very fine portraits of animals.)

I was hugely impressed with the range of ages and countries of the artists who succeeded in getting through to the final 60 - this has to be regarded as a major reward for the change in the rules. Nearly 40% came from people aged 40 and over and one chap is 80! However, taking the exhibition as a whole, all the people I know who have seen it so far are surprised that so many of the portraits are so very realistic as opposed to painterly. The Times journalist neatly sums it up as follows
There seem to be far too many representatives of this (photorealist) school in this show, artists who work hard to give us the likeness but who fail to give us the spirit.
A short selection of some portraits that made me stop and stare at the Private View on Wednesday follows:
The exhibition opened to the public yesterday and the prizes will be announced next Wednesday 20th June. You can read more about the exhibition in these two articles:

BP Travel Award 2006 - Travels through Wessex in a Campervan
The exhibition also contains the exhibition of works produced by Toby Wiggins, the winner of the BP Travel Award 2006. He spent 4 weeks travelling around Wessex in a 1972 Camper van making portraits of people who worked the land. He also made recordings while drawing and painting his sitters and you can read what they have to say in the catelogue. Apparently all had a strong sense of place and a passion for their work. I certainly found it an extremely impressive collection of work and was personally very taken with the pencil drawings done on gesso panels. (You can see more examples of his pencil drawings on gesso panels here).

The exhibition is open until 16th September at which point The BP Portrait Award and Travel Award exhibition will tour to Laing Art Gallery, Newcastle-upon-Tyne,from 13 October - 2 December 2007, and to the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, Edinburgh, from 14 December 2007 - 16 March 2008.



  1. I agree with their choice for the winner :)

    I've like PE's work for years

    .... another great article

    oh and I totally agree with the Times journalists comments - when a photorealist painting is indistinguishable from a photo I just think 'why bother?' - it adds nothing, no further character or interest at all

  2. But which one will win - that's the question!

  3. I love the "Michael Simpson, Oil on canvas"! Very haunting and it makes me wonder about the history of this sitter and what he has seen in life. Paul Emsley is certainly a master at what he does.

  4. I really enjoyed this - and even more so, a link from the Times article you linked to, of the results of an amateur self-portrait competition for children. Thanks for posting it.

  5. Well that's what I think too - but we'll have to wait until Wednesday to see.

  6. Nancy - If you want to find out more I did a blog post in May about the Tate Times Drawing Challenge for young artists and their self portraits

  7. For those interested in entering next year I posted a summary of the rules for entry in February here


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