Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Threadneedle Figurative Prize (part 1) - view the entries and vote!

Two of the works shortlisted for the Threadneedle Figurative Prize
Left: Anthony Green, The heaven and earth machine
Right: Nina Murdoch, Untitled

All images courtesy of the Mall Galleries

The £25,000 Threadneedle Figurative Prize is brand new and is the largest art prize in the UK ever to be decided entirely by the public - based on votes in the gallery and cast online.

The public are choosing from a shortlist of seven artworks - which you can see in this post. Interestingly the shortlist offered in this first year of this very prestigious new prize for figurative work looks nothing like the photorealistic works which crop up so very often in the shortlist for the BP Portrait Award.

Should one be surprised? I think not - after all Brian Sewell has been a member of the panel judges and his views on the so-called popularity of photorealism is well known.

This post is being written in two halves - before and after I visit a preview at the Mall Galleries later today. I'm doing this because I expect that a lot of the votes may well come online and I want to see if I have any surprises when I compare the works in real life to their digital image. So this post reflects my views based purely on the digital images - and Part 2 comes after I've seen the real thing!

For those of you wondering "What is figurative art?" - here's an answer from earlier in the process.
It’s a competition that we hope will attract every form of representational art: still life studies, landscapes, figure studies as well as portraits. It’s about real object sources that motivate us, excite us or move us, conveyed in a range of different media. Our definition of ‘figurative’ art was lifted from the Tate’s own definition about ‘any form of modern art that retains strong references to the real world and particularly to the human figure’ Therefore, the human figure may play an important part in your representation, but it’s not essential. To make this point clearer we’ve made a small amendment to the rules online (rule 3) by excluding: ‘and, in particular, to the human figure’
Threadneedle e-mail: The TFP Open Day - and some Q&A feedback
The winner of the £25,000 Threadneedle Figurative Prize will be awarded to the artist who receives the largest share of public votes cast at the exhibition or online. The prize is exclusively open to artists living or working in the UK, and has proved a massive hit with artists attracted by the potential to win up to £35,000 - which makes it the most valuable competition for a single work of art in the UK.

Over 2,700 entries were submitted to the 11 regional prize drop off points around the UK and I gather that exhibition space at the Mall Galleries was crammed full when the panel arrived to select the works to be hung and which ones should make the shortlist for the vote. This new Prize has succeeded in attracting entries from everybody from very popular RAs to students. Interestingly I didn't see the names of a number of people who are prominent in the world of portraiture - but maybe they didn't enter! I suspect the entry for next year will be very much bigger now that everybody can see who got selected - and the range of backgrounds they represent.

The five people who selected the work and created the shortlist are:
71 works have been selected by the panel for display in the exhibition which opens tomorrow on 20th August. You can see all the 71 works on the website for the Threadneedle figurative prize which now contains the images of artwork accepted for exhibition.

Self-portrait as a man of clay
Tai-Shan Schierenberg

Voting for the winner: The way the vote works is like this:
  • The public vote for one of seven shortlisted artists (see below) to win the Threadneedle Figurative Prize which is worth £25,000.
  • In other words they choose from 1 from 7 and not from the 71 works selected for display. Personally I feel this is a bit of a cop out - either it's a public vote or it's not. If it had been down to me I'd have let them choose from the 71 on display - but that's because, judging by website image alone, I prefer some of the pieces which weren't shortlisted. A real test would have been two votes - one vote for the piece they liked the best and one vote for one of the seven selected for the selectors' prize. Now that would have been interesting - and different!
  • The winner of the Figurative Prize is also eligible for the £10,000 Federation of British Artists Selectors' Choice.
  • The vote begins on 19th August and closes 12 noon on 3 September 2008.
  • The winner will be announced at a special Awards dinner on the evening of 3 September, hosted by Lauren Laverne (BBC2’s The Culture Show). The winner of the £10,000 Federation of British Artists Selectors’ Choice will also be announced that evening. (The big question is whether this will be like the Booker Prize and get on BBC2?)
  • Everybody can vote just once in principle. I'm still not sure how they intend to weed out any repeat voting of the sort so popular in other competitions where the public can vote. Unless they've got their software up to scratch I predict some scope for controversy.
What is particularly exciting is that the award has attracted artists of all ages and backgrounds: they range from art college graduates to Royal Academicians. There were some robust discussions over individual pieces, but we've ended up with a very exciting shortlist which captures the essence of figurative art. We want as many people as possible to visit the exhibition and to vote for their choice of shortlisted artist to win the £25,000 Threadneedle Figurative Prize.

The selectors have now chosen which shortlisted piece will receive the £10,000 Federation of British Artists Selectors' Choice. However, as this won't be announced until 3 September it's going to be fascinating to see if the Selectors' choice reflects that of the voting public.
Lewis McNaught, Director of the Mall Galleries

From top left (clockwise)
The Clothes Show by Paul Brandford
by Eloiza Mills
Tank on Fire
by Tim Shaw and
Compassion postponed
by Nicholas Charles Williams

Interestingly a number of artists have had more than one artwork selected. Eloiza Mills, for example, has three works in the show - all portraits of women.

I'm going to be getting more details about the artists later today. In the meantime here are the seven shortlisted works - images of which are featured throughout this post.
Anthony Green's installation The heaven and earth machine, which employs the artist's late mother's dining room table to combine the potential of sculpture with painting; (Top of post - top left)

Nina Murdoch's luminous study of a derelict corner of South London, Untitled, a work that transforms the mundane into something sublime; (Top of post - top left)

Tai-Shan Schierenberg's Self-portrait as a man of clay continues his experiments with new forms of portraiture and the fallibility or mortality of the artist; (to the right of 'Voting for the winner')

Paul Brandford's The clothes show is a vibrant portrait of Zimbabwe's leader, Robert Mugabe, shown decorated with ribbons and medals, standing between two henchmen; (Above - top left)

Eloiza Mills' intricate portrait of her friend Hannah, a miniature oil painting executed on copper, whose 'silent presence' evokes a Vermeer-like quality; (Above - top right)

Nicholas Charles Williams' study Compassion postponed that examines the fluidity of compassion in contemporary society. (Above - bottom left) and

Tim Shaw's Tank on fire, a sculpture inspired by a 2005 photo image showing a British soldier in Iraq leaping to the ground from a burning Warrior vehicle. (Above - bottom right)
You can see a slideshow of the works on this BBC site.

I got the BP Portrait Award right - so which one do I think will win?
  • Personally I find myself rather drawn to Nina Murdoch's Untitled work in egg tempera - especially as it challenges some of one's preconceptions about figurative work. She's also working with flat shapes, spaces and light in a way that I personally find very attractive.
  • The fact that Eloiza Mills, age 21, is the only painter to have three works selected for the show suggests to me her work must be very good - she even has the website of the School of Art at Aberystwyth University advocating voting for her! However she needs to get herself a website so she can collect what I predict would be be massive traffic - if only we can find it (the link is currently to the Purley Advertiser!)
  • Down in Cornwall, the Cornwall Culture blog is highlighting its local candidate Nicholas Charles Williams. Plus the Wikipedia article about Nicholas Charles Williams indicates that both Brian Sewell and William Packer are big fans of his work - so we shouldn't be surprised he made the shortlist!
  • Tai-Shan Schierenberg is a gallery artist at Flowers East - the gallery run by selector Angela Flowers
  • Paul Brandford has form - he won the Jerwood Drawing Prize in 2004
Prior to seeing the work I'm hoping the winner is either Nina Murdoch or Eloiza Mills. However I rather suspect the winner might be either The Clothes Show or Tank on Fire.

Of course, this is the pre-exhibition view. I wonder whether I'll change my mind when visiting the exhibition? See Part 2 for more.............

[UPDATE: The two follow up posts to this one are Making a Mark: Threadneedle Figurative Prize (part 2) - Green, Mills, Murdoch and Schierenberg
Making a Mark: Threadneedle Figurative Prize (part 3) - Brandford, Shaw, Williams and the DVD]

Links and Notes:


  1. I love the Nina Murdoch one - I would imagine it's stunning in real life

    I've like Tai Shan Schierenberg's work for a long tiem

    Have fun :>)

  2. Wonderful write up, I checked the site for the complete works and I really enjoyed it! I love the variety of choice and the surprises! When I say surprises I mean, I discovered so many artists I have never heard of! I also expected some artists but they were not there, I can only think they didn't take part!

    I really love Tai Shan Schierenberg's works and I also hope he wins!

    I can't wait to see them all, live at the Mall!

  3. As an experiment, I tried voting twice (for Nina Murdoch, as a matter of fact), using different email addresses. They spotted the same IP address and refused the second attempt.

  4. That's good to know. It would be horrible if the results were distorted due to some problem with the voting.

    I'll email the Gallery and let them know the safeguards are working!

  5. I just came back to click on the link to vote and I think for the first time, the descriptions (apart from the self portrait) moved me as much as the art - 3 of them really struck a chord. I thought I had a clear favourite, now I'm going to mull over them for a few days.

  6. Good - you'll now be able to read my blog posts on the next two days as well! :)

    I'm splitting coverage of the shortlisted entries and doing half today and half tomorrow

  7. Hmm, now I've read your post (I'm so envious, I would love to see the exhibition!) you have me thinking twice about the self portrait too! I was very much taken with one of the BP portraits because of the way the paint was used and it didn't come across in any photos I'd seen. Thanks for keeping us informed Katherine, I'm enjoying these posts immensely!


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