Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Craig Wylie wins BP Portrait Award 2008

BP Portrait Award 2008:
Tony Hayward (Group CEO, BP) and Craig Wylie 
- in front of the winning portrait 'K'
copyright Katherine Tyrrell
Craig Wylie has won the first prize in the BP Portrait Award - as I predicted on this blog last week. In fact, I did rather well as I also predicted that Peiyuan Jiang would win the Young Artist Award (for an artist aged 18-30) - and he won too.

Awards Ceremony and Prizes

Photographs in this post are from last night's Awards Ceremony and reception at the National Portrait Gallery attended by exhibitors and their partners and/or sitters, past winners, BP and NPG staff and board members - and me!

Ian Hislop, Editor of Private Eye presented the prizes with Tony Hayward, the Group CEO of BP who sponsor the exhibition.
"I don't know much about art, but I love faces and commission a lot of portraits - as cartoons!"
Ian Hislop
The first prize is an engraved transparent trophy, plus a cheque for £25,000 and a commission worth £4,000 to produce a portrait for the National Portrait Gallery. Simon Davis won second prize and a cheque for £8,000 and Robert O'Brien won the third prize of £6,000.

Emmanual Bitsakis, who has now had portraits in the exhibition twice, was awarded the BP Travel Award 2008.

Sandy Nairne, Director of the NPG, commented that the BP Portrait Award is always the NPG's noisiest exhibition each year - as some 175,000 visitors decide whether or not they agree with the judges choices!

BP Portrait Award - First Prize

Craig Wylie, age 35, was born in Zimbabwe but now lives and works in London and has a studio just down the road from me in Hackney Wick. He graduated with distinction in Fine Art from Rhodes University in South Africa in 1996. He is an established figurative artist with a track record of previous prizes and awards in the UK and overseas and has exhibited widely. He also paints still life and his figurative work is represented by Jonathan Cooper's Park Walk Gallery in Chelsea.

Entrance to the exhibition featuring 'K'
and Piang
Jiang's Untitled
(on left hand wall)

copyright Katherine Tyrrell

I was able to speak with Katie Raw just after the announcement and learned that 'K', which is a portrait of Katie, was painted by Craig in just six weeks. This was his third attempt at this particular painting.

She confirmed that his painting of her represents a point in her life when she was feeling vulnerable and that Craig was the only painter she trusted to paint her in terms of how she was feeling. Craig has previously commented that
"On one level the viewer's intrusion into the sitters emotional state is tacitly accepted, on another it is positively rebuffed."
Craig Wylie
Portraits by Craig Wylie were accepted for the BP Portrait Award exhibitions in both 2005 and 2006 but this is the first year he has made the shortlist - and now the first prize.

You can see more of Craig's work on his website and read more about his record in terms of competitions and galleries in his About Craig Wylie page

Looking back over the exhibitors in past BP Portrait Awards, it's noticeable that the names of those accepted change quite radically from your year to year - apart from a small number of people - like Craig Wylie. People like Craig who win the top prizes have often had their work shown in previous BP Portrait exhibitions before winning a prize. On which basis, I expect to see people like Benjamin O'Sullivan and/or Angela Reilly in the shortlist for 2009!

Peiyuan Jiang and Craig Wylie talking to guests
at the BP Portrait Awards Prizes reception
copyright Katherine Tyrrell

The Young Artist AwardThe BP commitment to and sponsorship of the portrait exhibition extends for the second year to the new Young Artist award of £5,000 for entrants aged between 18 and 30. All entrants from this age group are automatically considered for both the BP Young Artist Award and the BP Portrait Award but an individual cannot win both.

Piang Jiang was born in China, is 24 and is currently completing an MA in Fine Art at Chelsea College of Art. Piang has done tremendously well as he first heard about the Award in 2006, entered last year for the first time but failed to get into the exhibition - and this year won the Young Artist Award! I like to think that maybe I made a very small contribution to his success - see the anecdote at the end!

The BP Travel Award

The BP Travel Award 2008 has been won by Emmanouil Bitsakis (see Portrait of a Serbian Student of theology with the Serbian Patriarch in background) - who also had a portrait in the 2007 exhibition (see Portrait by Emmanouil Bitsakis).

He studied painting at Athens School of Fine Arts and won First Prize in Painting at the Inter-Balkan Forum of Contemporary Miniature Art in 2002.

His travel proposal is to go to China and record the Uighar people - a Turkish community living in the former East Turkestan, now the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region of China (see Travelblog for a description of Turkish China). It sounds an absolutely fascinating place and I can well understand why Emmanouil's proposal was chosen for the Travel award.

Later this week I'll be posting about Gareth Reid's work produced as a result of his half share of the Travel Awatd 2007 - which is also in the exhibition.

Exhibition - venues and datesYou can see the BP Portrait Award exhibition of 55 paintings in the Wolfson Gallery at the National Portrait Gallery until 14th September. If you're in London it's well worth a visit.

BP Portrait Award Exhibition
- a sense of scale

copyright Katherine Tyrrell
The BP Portrait Award and Travel Award exhibition will then go on tour to Wolverhampton Art Gallery (27 September -14 November 2008) and Aberdeen Art Gallery (29 November 2008 -24 January 2009.)

One final anecdote.

I was introducing myself to Peiyuan Jiang and his partner and told him the name of this blog. At which point, he beamed at me and told me that he knew all about my blog and had read my previous blog posts about the BP Portrait Award after he failed to get his entry into the exhibition last year! At which point I beamed back at Peiyuan Jiang. :D

So there you go - read my blog posts on the BP Portrait Award (see below) and you too may end up learning something useful to your advantage!

The Last WordHowever I'll leave the absolute last word to Sandy Nairne, the Director - who chairs the judging panel each year - in an extract from his foreword to this year's exhibition catalogue.
Whereas the general process of curating exhibitions involves building up a choice of work, the BP Portrait Award is a process of letting go. The judges must agree the final list. In one sense portraits make this straightforward - they are all depictions of individual human subjects. However the works vary from scrupulously rendered photo-realism to loose expressionist forms with every manner of brushwork, format and colour range in between. Given that the subjects are not generally know to the judges the vitality of the rendering of the sitter becomes important as do all items depicted from their lives alongside allegorical or other symbolic elements. The sense of feeling that the subject was present is essential, but there is of course no stipulation of how this engagement between artist and sitter should be translated into the final completed portrait
Sandy Nairne, Director, National Portrait Gallery - Director's Foreward to BP Portrait Award 2008 Catalogue


  1. I'm posting this on behalf of David Lawton who e-mailed me.

    "Hi Katherine,

    I tried to post this on your blog but as I am a total beginner in the blogging department it didn't work, as I naively assumed that all you did was write your piece, unscramble a few letters and press "publish"...do you have to create a blogging account in order to post a comment? Anyway, this is what I said.

    Like Peiyuan Jiang I enjoy your blog immensely, but perusing your account of Craig Wylie's triumph made me remember something you said about last year's show. I won second prize in 2007 and I remember that you said that what people needed to know was that, compared to the other shortlisted entries, mine was very small. I remember thinking "is that all they need to know?" What about the expressive power that can be contained within a 10 x 8" format? After all, it didn't seem to do Jan van Eyck any harm in his portrait of a man in a red turban, by common consent one of the most celebrated works in the history of art. I've got nothing against large-scale works in the least; the Sistine ceiling and Las Meninas are among my cherished favourites. Rubens recognised, in an appreciation of his friend Adam Elsheimer, that some artists are more comfortable with the intimacy of the cabinet picture than the grandeur of scale in which he himself excelled. Whether you meant it to or not, your remark sounded dismissive. I remember being thrilled when Sandy Nairne told me the judges had thought my portrait "like a Holbein", but I don't recall him commenting on a disabling lack of inches, as if that was all that mattered...

    By the way, I totally agree with your nomination of future BP winners, I'd thought for a long time Benjamin Sullivan would do it, it's just a question of when. But my preferred choice is Angela Reilly (who I know a little), her entry was stunning and quite how it didn't make the shortlist is anybody's guess. Of the prizewinning artists this year, I was most drawn to Simon Davis' pensive study, executed with painterly "feel" (and the only one Brian Sewell wasn't rude about!) Anyway, I hope you don't mind me e-mailing this comment to you, in the spirit of artistic debate. As already indicated, I think your blog's brilliant and long may it continue.

    Kind regards,

    David Lawton."

  2. David - Thanks very much for your comment - and opening up a bit of discussion on this post. I'm feeling rather gobsmacked (a much loved technical term of mine!) by the fact that my blog is being read by the prizewinners.

    Just to clarify - I too am a big fan of the smaller portrait and also adore the Van Eyck portrait which I used to have on my wall at college.

    I don't think big automatically = "good". Nor do I think small automatically = "less significant". However I do think relative size can have an impact in relation to its size whether it is large or small! Whether that impact is good relates to how well it is painted. I was always convinced that the Van Eyck was large - because of its impact!

    At the end of the day it's the quality of the overall painting and portrait which I'm interested in first and foremost and my absolute favourite this year was Seraph by Celia Bennett. Which is small compared to other paintings and I think was about the same size as your painting last year.

    I am critical of the NPG for not showing us the dimensions of each portrait on the website for the information of those people for whom this will be the only way they see the exhibition. I do think it's very important to have that information available.

    For the record - here's what I said about David last year.

    "Second Prizewinner: David Lawton receives £8,000 for his portrait of Stephen which is painted in oil on canvas panel and measures 270 x 200mm. This was by far the smallest of the four shortlisted and effectively captures a very still and intense expression. Lawton previously exhibited at the BP Portrait Award in 2000 (with a portrait of the same sitter) and has also won the Small Picture Award, Manchester Academy of Fine Arts (2003) and the RSBA Prize, Royal Birmingham Society of Artists (2004)."

  3. For the sake of balance - and for another perspective - I'm also going to include a link to the Brian Sewell comment on the BP Portrait Award.

    A further contribution came from a a friend of mine after I sent the link - the response was "Miaow"

    I agree with some of the things he's saying - I just wish he wouldn't go so OTT so that's all that people can remember and talk about. It just seems to defeat the purpose of raising what seem to me to be some relevant questions.

    What I'd like to see is an intelligent debate about the merits of various approaches to portraiture which avoid (take your choice as to which of the following you find most offensive) trying to please the public / trying to outrage the public / sticking to entrenched and /or academic views irrespective of other perspectives / presenting comments as personal attacks or giving into a spate of being bombastic! I think I've covered all the angles........ ;)

    In other words civilised and in compliance with my blog comments policy!

    What is it about portraiture which gets people so agitated?


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