Monday, April 18, 2011

BP Portrait Award 2011 Shortlist

The four artists shortlisted for the BP Portrait Award 2011 at the National Portrait Gallery are:
  • Ian Cumberland (County Down, Northern Ireland) for "Just to Feel Normal"
  • Wim Heldens (Amsterdam, Netherlands) for "Distracted"
  • Sertan Saltan (Connecticut, USA) for "Mrs. Cerna" and 
  • Louis Smith (Manchester) for "Holly".
More about each artist can be found below. 55 portraits in total have been selected for the exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery, which runs from 16 June until 18 September 2011 prior to touring the UK.
The Portrait Award, now in its 32nd year at the National Portrait Gallery and 22nd year of sponsorship by BP, is a highly successful annual event aimed at encouraging artists to focus upon, and develop, the theme of painted portraiture within their work.

2011 Award had a record number of entries

For the fifth year, the competition has been open to all artists aged 18 and over living and working anywhere in the world.

The BP Portrait Award is the premier international portrait prize in the northern hemisphere.   It's certainly one of the most prestigious in the world with only the Archibald beating it in terms of age and the Doug Moran National Portrait Prize beating it in terms of prize money. Consequently it attracts a very large number of entries.

In 2011, records have been broken yet again. 2,372 entries were received representing an increase of 196 on last year.   Of these 1,644 (69%) came from artists living or working in the UK and 728 (31%) came from international artists.  Specifically the analysis is as follows:
  • UK - England (33); Wales (1); Scotland (3); Northern Ireland (1);
  • North America - USA (4); Canada (1)
  • Europe - Ireland (1); Netherlands (2); Spain (5); Israel (1); Czech Republic (1); Latvia (1); Italy (1)
Shortlisted Artists 

It's an interesting selection this year.  I have the benefit of being able to download the high res images from the NPG site to take a good look at them.  You need to bear in mind that in this post you see the images at more or less the same size whereas in reality they are a completely different size.  Holly is absolutely HUGE! So much so you'll find a graphic I've produced towards the end which aims to illustrate the difference in sizes of the different portraits.

I'm commenting after each entry as to my initial impressions.

Ian Cumberland (dob 16.03.83)

Just to Feel Normal by Ian Cumberland
(oil on linen, 1500mm x 1000mm / 59" x 39")
copyright the artist / used with permission of NPG
NPG statement: Ian Cumberland lives and works in County Down, Northern Ireland. Since graduating in Fine and Applied Arts at the University of Ulster in 2006 he has had a solo exhibition at the Albermarle Gallery in London and has won several awards. Ian’s work is represented in public collections in Ireland. He was a BP Portrait Award exhibitor in 2009. His shortlisted portrait is an enigmatic half-smiling head-and-shoulders study of a friend, who has a tuft of short blond hair and slightly-closed left eye lids perhaps indicating a more melancholy demeanour. ‘This is a painting of a friend whose story is like many others from my generation that have fallen victim to themselves and their preferred habits’, says Cumberland. ‘The title Just to feel Normal refers to his answer when asked why he continues along his chosen path’.
Cumberland is an excellent painter and to my mind is also the best portrait painter - in terms of realism.  The eyes in this portrait are quire remarkable.  In my opinion, this is the best painted portrait of the four and I think he'll be an absolute certainty for the BP Young Artist Award.

In terms of a painter who will produce an excellent portrait in response to the NPG commission, he's also probably the best fit of all four.  Which makes me think he's very probably also a highly rated contender for the main prize.

Wim Heldens (dob 29.03.54)

Distracted by Wim Heldens

(oil on canvas, 750mm x 550mm / 29" x 22")
copyright the artist / used with permission of NPG
NPG statement: Wim Heldens is a self-taught, professional artist who lives in Amsterdam and whose work has been seen in numerous group and solo exhibitions in Europe and the United States. He was a BP Portrait Award exhibitor in 2008 and 2010. His sitter is Jeroen, a 25-year-old philosophy student to whom the artist has been a father-figure since he was four. He has sat for him over 20 times, and is pictured here leaning on a section of wall with a pencil in his hand wearing the black and grey of which Heldens says, ‘he only seems to be wearing these days’. The simple white studio walls are used as basics for his composition, focusing on his sitter in the light from the window. ‘I have been fascinated with painting Jeroen in all stages of life through growing up. While I have painted him many times in groups, once in a while there is the desire to paint a simple portrait of just him. Now, he is an intelligent and sensitive young man’.
Wim Heldens has a good track record in terms of selection for the BP Portrait Award which is often an indicator of an artist worth short-listing.  I can see the attractions of the subtleties of this portrait, however I don't find it memorable and to my mind the BP Portrait Award nearly always goes to a portrait which 'stands out'.  This one for me is maybe a little too quiet and refined.

Sertan Saltan (dob 17.09.82) 
Mrs. Cerna
(oil on canvas, 510mm x 410mm  / 16" )
copyright the artist / used with permission of NPG
NPG statementBorn in 1982 in Eskisehir, Turkey, Sertan Saltan now lives and works in Avon, Connecticut (USA), where he is developing a studio. He studied painting at a famous atelier in Istanbul before moving to the United States in 2006 to continue his studies at New York State University where he gained a BFA in Product Design. His sitter Mrs Cerna is the younger sister of a friend in New York City, who is caught glancing at the artist, almost menacingly, in her hair rollers and latex gloves sharpening a large knife.

‘The contrast of knife, gloves and rollers brought both humour and horror to mind’, he says. ‘The animated sharpening of the knives and thoughtful facial expressions were burned into my mind’s eye. I wanted to capture on canvas that moment which allows the viewer to meet this extraordinary woman and experience the richness and complexity of her preparation for Thanksgiving dinner’.
By way of contrast to the previous portrait, this woman has an absolutely wicked expression on her face - it's a portrait which is full of life and menace and is certainly arresting!  However it's very small and is the least accomplished in terms of painterly technique which has been prized in recent years - irrespective of whether or not the portrait had been hyper-realist or not.  The lack of a website means I'm unable to tell what this artist's track record is in terms of portraiture.  Saltan has not been selected or shortlisted before and I think it's unlikely that this portrait will win the main prize.

Louis Smith (dob 14.08.69)

(oil on canvas, 3640mm x 2430mm / 12 feet x 8 feet)
copyright the artist / used with permission of NPG
NPG statementLouis Smith, from Manchester, studied painting at Sheffield Hallam University and scene painting at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. He has exhibited in Britain and Italy and at the 2009 BP Portrait Award. His eight-foot portrait shows a naked model called Holly hand-cuffed to a rock in a wild cave-like landscape. The Allegory of Prometheus is re-imagined in female form. Prometheus stole fire from Zeus and give it to mortals; as punishment he was bound to a rock while an eagle ate his liver daily only for it to grow back to be eaten the next day.

Holly looks into the eagle’s face with calm resilience, accepting her fate. ‘It’s a message of composure in the face of adversity, something we can all draw strength from in our struggle to make a daily living.’ The portrait has a huge gilt frame with a marble plaque at the base, inscribed with the name ‘Holly’. ‘It’s an extravagant attempt to illuminate the Baroque style,’ says Louis, who was helped with set, frame and background painting by Carmel Said.
I realised this painting was a bit different when I zoomed in on the image and realised that I was seeing pixels.  Which had to mean it was very big.  Little did I realise that it was 12 feet by 8 feet!  The issue for me is whether or not this painting is a portrait as opposed to (let's say) a "history painting" of the allegorical variety.  I also think that the fact he had help might possibly have ruled him out of the main prize but I can't remember what the rules say as to whether or not an artist has to produce something which is all their own work.

There's also the issue of the subject matter and the pose and this painting might be said to be the equivalent of Manet's Olympia!

Do read Johnathan Jones' article about it.  He was one of this year's judges and the article gives a sense of the impact of both subject and size.  BP Portrait Award 2011: The shock of the old.  I detect from the article that this painting clearly split the judges which suggests it may well not be the winner despite its impressive size.

Inspection of the image and Smith's track record in terms of juried shows and prizes clearly indicates he's a very accomplished painter and certainly an artist to watch - irrespective of whether or not he wins the main prize.  My guess is that this painting will either get first or second prize.

You can see Louis Smith demonstrating how he paints in YouTube videos on his website.

The difference in proportions

The graphic below attempts to show the difference in size
  • The white area is Sertan's menacing lady with the knife
  • The blue is the chap with the pencil
  • The flesh coloured area is Cumberland's big head
  • all of which are dwarfed by Louis Smith's Holly
However even reducing the graphic in size as far as I could go, I still couldn't get all of Holly onto my screen for the screen dump and hence there's a big chunk which continues below the grey of Holly as shown below!

BP Portrait Award Shortlist - the relative proportions

The Judges and the Prizes

Judging Panel

The competition was judged from original paintings by this year’s panel:
  • Sandy Nairne, Director, National Portrait Gallery, London (Chair)
  • Paul Emsley, Artist, BP Portrait Award First Prize Winner 2007
  • Jonathan Jones, Art Critic, The Guardian
  • Iwona Blazwick OBE, Director, Whitechapel Gallery, London
  • Rosie Broadley, Associate Contemporary Curator, National Portrait Gallery, London
  • Des Violaris, Director, UK Arts and Culture, BP
BP Portrait Award Prizes

The award and the winners of the prizes will be announced on the evening of Tuesday 14 June - which sadly, this year I won't be there to see as I'm painting in Provence!
  • The winner of the BP Portrait Award:  a cash prize of £25,000 plus a commission worth £4,000. 
  • Second prize will be £8,000 
  • Third Prize £6,000. 
  • BP Young Artist Award - £5,000 for the work of an entrant aged between 18 and 30. Both Ian Cumberland and Sertan Saltan are eligible for this award.
Exhibition Dates

You can see the exhibitions for both the BP Portrait Award 2011 and the BP Travel Award between 16 June and 18 September 2011, Wolfson Gallery, National Portrait Gallery.  The exhibition is supported by BP and admission is free.  In 2011-12 it will subsequently tour the UK.


1 comment:

  1. oh Katherine, thanks for posting this - I'm SO EXCITED!! I saw Ian Cumberland's work in Belfast last year for the first time, and it really has to be seen to be believed.. Fantastic, huge and mesmerizing. I found myself looking sideways at the canvas to see how thick the paint really was.. Though I resisted the temptation to touch the painting, much to my companions relief (a constant battle for me, I want to touch everything!) I'm so delighted for him to have been shortlisted. So well deserved.


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