Friday, April 25, 2008

BP Portrait Award shortlist announced - a woman will win!

The National Portrait Gallery have announced the four artists short-listed this year for one of Britain's most prestigious art prizes - the BP Portrait Award. The backgrounds to both artist and portrait are explained below. The portrait they painted in the above montage is indicated in brackets after their name, the title of the work and the media and size.
  • Simon Davis for Portrait of Amanda Smith at Vincent Avenue oil on board, 650 x 398 mm (top left). Simon Davis RP was elected to membership of the Royal Society of Portrait Painters in 2006 and now exhibits with them every year. He's got an unusual portrait of a fisherman Mick Mahon, Newlyn in this year's RSPP exhibition which opened this week at the Mall Galleries. He is also a member of the Royal Birmingham Society of Artists and has won a number of previous awards. Davis exhibits with the Red Rag Gallery and with other leading galleries. He was born in 1968, trained as a graphic designer and illustrator and has worked as a professional illustrator of contemporary comic books published in the UK and USA. His portrait is of a friend and he says it was inspired by a portrait Toulouse Lautrec did of his mother.
I had previously painted a number of closer-in portraits of Amanda,' he says, 'but this time I wanted the composition to have a calm and contemplative feel to it with a lot of space around it.
Simon Davis
  • Peiyuan Jiang for Untitled oil and acrylic on canvas, 700 x 800 mm (second row). Peiyuan Jiang is 24 and the youngest finalist. He's currently studying for an MA in Fine Art at Chelsea College of Art and Design. He exhibited in the 2007 Royal Institute of Painters in Water Colours Annual Exhibition at the Mall Gallery, London, and the 2006 RBSA Friends Exhibition at the RBSA Gallery, Birmingham.
Ever since I saw the BP Portrait Prize last year I'd intended to enter and had been looking for a subject. I only know a little bit about this woman, the small things you glean from being housemates.
Peiyuan Jiang
  • Robert O'Brien for Hannah O'Brien oil on board, 300 x 400 mm (top row, centre). Robert O'Brien is not a watercolour artist in his fifties living in Vermont - as indicated by the Guardian! Robert O'Brien is a figurative portrait artist living and working in London and Gothenburg in Sweden. He started studying for a degree at Buckinghamshire Chilterns University and in his final year was given the opportunity to study abroad at Stenebyskolan, Sweden, where he graduated in 2003 with a BA in Design. His portrait is the smallest in the final and is of his grandmother who died on October 26, 2007. The sittings, which were kept short because of her poor health, took place in a Care Centre in Hayes, Middlesex.
I've always thought of my Grandmother as a strong, determined woman who overcame great hardships and difficulties in her life and that is how I wanted to portray her.
Robert O'Brien
  • Craig Wylie for K oil on canvas, 2100 x 1650 mm (top row, right) Craig Wylie was born in Zimbabwe in 1973 but now lives in the UK and has a studio in London at Hackney Wick. In 1996, he graduated with distinction in fine art from Rhodes University in South Africa. He has exhibited widely and is a gallery artist with Park Gallery. He also paints still life and floral works. The portrait is of his girlfriend Katherine Raw - who was also the subject of a portrait K.R. hung in the 2005 exhibition. This year's portrait is nearly three times larger than the next largest painting.
On one level the viewer's intrusion into the sitters emotional state is tacitly accepted. On another it is positively rebuffed.
Craig Wylie
The competition was judged from original paintings by this year's panel
A woman will win

A portrait of a woman that is......

I wonder if it's a first that all four portraits in the short-list are of women?

The fact that there is no female artist in the short-listed finalists (as in 2007 and 2005.........) is certainly not a fact I'd want to celebrate - hence the irony of the title of this post. There was one female finalist in 2006 and one in 2004 and a female artist did win in 2003 so it's not all bad news!

I'm not criticising the panel - I'm sure they picked what they saw as the best. Rather I'm suggesting that many more women artists need to enter competitions like this and the exhibitions with prestigious awards like the Ondaatje (as covered yesterday - see end). There are certainly many women artists who are extremely competent portrait painters and yet, as demonstrated for example by the membership of the Royal Society of Portrait Painters the portrait world seems to be overwhelmingly dominated by artists of the male gender! (Note: women members represent 6% of the elected membership of the RSPP)

Who will win?

I'm wondering which artist/portrait will win. Having spent last night wrestling with contre jour lighting I'd have to say that Craig Wylie set himself the biggest challenge - the other three seem to me to have fewer difficulties to overcome in relation to lighting. However I'm not wholly convinced that Peiyuan's skin tones are consistent with a painting from life in an outside environment.

Simon Davies demonstrates how one can be inspired by a painting by another artist - and yet still paint your own painting in your own style. Speaking personally, although I like a number of his portraits, I have to say I prefer the washy style of the original.

The artist's mother - Comtesse Adele de Toulouse-Lautrec at breakfast, Malromé Chateau (c1881-3)
Toulouse Lautrec

Finally, I found while writing this post that the portrait which continually draws me in the most is Robert O'Brien's portrait of his grandmother. Its a macro perspective which doesn't aim to flatter in a cosmetic sense and reminds me somewhat of Sue Rubira's work. She's an example of a very fine woman artist whose watercolour portraits are excluded from this competition because of the limitations as to media.

What are your thoughts as to which looks like a winner?

Prizes: The prizewinner will be announced at an Awards Ceremony on the evening of Monday 16 June (5 days after the exhibition opens on Thursday 12th June).

The winner of the BP Portrait Award receives a cash prize of £25,000 and a commission from the National Portrait Gallery worth £4,000. The second prize is £8,000 and the third prize is £6,000. In addition there is a BP Young Artist Award of £5,000 for the work of an entrant aged between 18 and 30. Peiyuan Jiang and Robert O'Brien are both eligible for this award. I've already done a little number-crunching for you. In principle, I think this means that the maximum value that could be awarded is to an artist aged under 30 who wins the BP (£34,000) and the least any of the above artists is leaving with is nothing (an artist aged under 30 who comes 4th).

Press coverage of the finalists and this year's award is listed in the links at the end.

Who entered? The rules for who can submit were changed a year ago to make it open to all artists over the age of 18. This year there have been a record number of entries from non-UK artists and those over the age of 40. Here are some of the facts
  • 1,727 registered entries were received.
    • 780 (45%) were from artists aged 40 or over.
    • 536 entries (31% of the total) came from outside the UK.
  • 55 portraits have been selected for the exhibition which runs at the National Portrait Gallery from 12 June to 14 September.
    • 38 from the UK (that's 3.2% of the UK entries and 2.2% of the total entries)
    • 17 from abroad (3.2% of the overseas entries and 0.98% of the total entry)
As you can see slightly more than 3% of the portraits submitted will be hung in the exhibition. An artist submitting from overseas has 1 in 100 chance of being hung in the exhibition, while a UK based artist has a slightly better chance - 2 in 100! Obviously lots of people have either thought these are better odds than winning the Lottery or haven't actually calculated them based on last year's entry.

This year's finalists all currently live in the UK although two have come to the UK from overseas. All, as highlighted above, are male. Maybe next time the NPG could provide statistics about gender?

About the BP Portrait Award

This is the 29th year of The Portrait Award at the National Portrait Gallery and the 19th year that it has been sponsored by BP. It's very much an event which is aimed at encouraging artists to focus upon, and develop, the theme of painted portraiture within their work. I know, from the amount of hits that my blog gets relating to my previous posts about this exhibition, that there is an awful lot of interest in this competition and the entry rules.

The exhibition opens on 12 June and runs until 14 September 2008. It's always an interesting exhibition and very well worth a visit if you are coming to London over the summer.

Another portrait in the news

A portrait of Tony Blair painted by Phil Hale was unveiled yesterday. It's not the most flattering of portraits and looks to me rather as if the relative proportions of body and head weren't sized correctly. Here's the coverage from the BBC News and the Guardian. If I've got the right link for the artist I'm very curious as to the reason why this artist was picked given the nature of other work on the gallery site.

and finally.....

For those of you who read yesterday's post about the exhibition at the Mall Galleries James Lloyd wins The Ondaatje Prize for Portraiture the technical hitch has been overcome and I've now got images of the 3 of the 4 prize-winning portraits added into the blog post.



  1. I've really appreciated both of these portrait posts. I think it would help greatly to have diversity in the judging. Dominant culture misses so much when it's the only one picking prizes and who gets to be shown.

  2. I am enriched by seeing these works. Thanks for posting them.

    I was interested to see a student submission in the list.

  3. I always read the critics' comments about portraits with interest. Despite it all (the artspeak, the aims, the technique etc), they nearly always focus on the expression or the posture or the likeness - the basic stuff!;) I'm not sure if I like or dislike TB's portrait yet but I think if it was a photo, it would be rather dull, just a snapshot not very well thought out. The white of the shirt showing through his jacket at waist level is a little strange!


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