Sunday, June 23, 2013

Sophie Ploeg wins BP Travel Award 2013

How would you like an exhibition of your paintings at the National Portrait Gallery? That's not one painting in a group exhibition - that's a real exhibition.

Win the BP Travel Award and besides the cash prize of £6,000 and that's exactly what you get.

One of my favourite parts of the BP Portrait Award exhibition is the BP Travel Award exhibition which is in the same room. They're always interesting - and they're always very different.

The Travel Award is based on a project proposal by an artist submitting work for the BP Portrait Award.  The idea is that an artist of merit should have the opportunity to work in a different environment on a project related to portraiture. The portraits painted as a result of the project then receive their own mini exhibition in the following year’s Portrait Exhibition.

So far as I'm aware it's not based in any way on the portrait submitted - it's all down to the project.

At the end I have some tips for future applicants based on my observation of past projects - and involvement in managing projects in the past.

BP Travel Award 2013

This year the winner of the BP Travel Award 2013 is Sophie Ploeg.  Here's what the Award selectors had to say
Winner of the BP Travel Award 2013
Sophie Ploeg
(with L to R Bob Dudley, CEO of BP, 
Sandy Nairne, Director of the National Portrait Gallery, 
Joanna Trollope, author)
Photo © Katherine Tyrrell
This year the BP Travel Award has been awarded to Bristol-based Dutch Artist Sophie Ploeg. Having studied Art & Architectural History at universities in The Netherlands, Ploeg, 39, won for her proposal to explore how fashion and lace was represented in 17th century art, as well as in modern applications. She will visit famous lace-making centres such as Bruges in Belgium and Honiton in Devon, modern lace makers and artists, antique lace collections and 17th century art collections, as well as to undertake literary research. Sophie's final work will be inspired by her findings and will be displayed in the BP Portrait Award 2014 exhibition.
I've known Sophie since 2011 when I spotted some amazing paintings by her - and I've been featuring her on a regular basis since then.

oil on canvas, 40x30cm
© Sophie Ploeg
In fact she won one of my Making A Mark Awards 2012 last December with this painting (see right) about which I wrote at the time
Sophie loves materials and it shows! I've seen her work up close in exhibitions and it is truly stunning. She's particularly good at getting the subtleties of neutral colours.
Sophie Ploeg with her self portrait
© Sophie Ploeg
Photo © Katherine Tyrrell
The interesting thing for all of us - and hence one of the reasons behind this post - is that Sophie intends to blog about her experience on her blog Sophie Ploeg right the way through the year.

So expect to see posts about what she's up to and how the project gets set up and executed - from the research through to the painting - and maybe she tells me - perhaps even a book!

Sophie's very experienced at research having already acquired an MA and a PhD in Art and Architectural History before she became a painter. As such she knows how to create a framework which will drive the project along while at the same time allowing for serendipity.  Her plans may change during the year - as discovery leads to new insights.  However current indications are that she'll be spending this summer on her travels.  Her plans involve:
  • viewing and studying clothing, textiles and antique lace in early 17th century art (focussing mostly on Jacobean period)
  • reading around the topic and researching the meanings associated with clothing and textiles and their status in paintings of the period eg how important was the fashion and fabric to both the sitter and the artist; how important was the fabric to the theatricality of a painting
  • studying how lace and textiles were painted 
  • how fabric, lace and clothing changed over time 
  • arriving at an interpretation of the meaning of fabric and lace in 17th portraiture which has the scope to inform meaning in today's contemporary portrait paintings
We had lunch last Wednesday and Sophie told me more about her plans and how the travel part fits in with her very long term interest in textiles, lace and the impact they on a painting.
I will study modern artists, lace makers and other 'users' to help me along interpreting the past. I will be seeing how they work with the past, with textiles and with the history of lace and this will help me focussing my own mind on how I want to interpret things. The big question of how to interpret the old masters in a meaningful way, without being gimmicky or cliché is very interesting and I want to have a go at it.
I will visit 17th century art collections like the National Portrait Gallery, Montacute House, the Tate Britain, Rijskmuseum (Amsterdam), Frans Hals Museum (Haarlem) en lace collections in Bruges, Honiton, and various regional collections like Sudeley Castle and Bath Fashion Museum etc.
My work will be an interpretation of what I have found; an interpretation of textiles and lace in early 17th century portraiture, an interpretation which - I hope - will have meaning and relevancy for people (women) today. Topics of femininity, womanhood, children and our place in history are themes in my work.
There are a number things I find really interesting about her Travel Project:
  • Firstly, it's unusual to find a travel award project which is involves a journey into the past.   
  • Secondly, it's actually quite academic.  Her aim, to me, seems to be to bring art history into the present and make a connection with the lessons we can learn from the past
  • Thirdly, I'm not in the least bit surprised to learn that output from the project might eventually involve a book as well as paintings
  • Lastly, I applaud her resolve not to determine at this stage what her output will look like.  Although she has some ideas and options, she doesn't yet know what the portrait or portraits she will be producing are going to be like or even what they will be of - other than that fabric and lace will be involved in some way.  She's happy to let her research move her towards a view of how best to develop a contemporary interpretation of her topic.
Sophie is keeping a diary of all her research and is inviting all her readers to join her on her travels and her journey as she researches.

In fact Sophie has already published her first post - see Travel Award Plans.

As for me I left the lunch to go to a PV of a new exhibition at the Courtauld Gallery and ended up photographing lace in paintings in the collection and then sending them to Sophie!

Small girl from the painting by Peter Paul Rubens of
The Family of Jan Brueghel the Elder
Oil on panel
Samuel Courtauld Trust: Princes Gate Bequest, 1978
Courtauld Collection
The family are expensively dressed, befitting their status as wealthy citizens of Antwerp.
The Family of Jan Brueghel the Elder (1613-15) by Peter Paul Rubens
You can read more about Sophie in this interview with Jackson's art Blog - Guest Artist - Sophie Ploeg 

Tips for Travel Award Applicants

I tried to think about what might be tips for those wanting to apply for the Travel Award.
  1. Have a good - and unique - idea (see BP Travel Award: Gareth Reid and the Finnish winter bathers (June 08)
  2. Be clear about why travel is essential to the fulfilment of your quest
  3. Think about its context e.g.
  4. Make a robust assessment of your project management skills - and demonstrable experience in delivering a project on time.  This is one project for which you can't get an extension!
  5. Scope what you need to do, the time required and who needs to give you any permission for what you want to do or where you want to go.  In other words demonstrate that you've already done relevant research!
  6. Work out the practicalities BEFORE you submit your application.  You need to make sure you can deliver on time - an exhibition with a deadline awaits you!
  7. Think about the exhibition and what it might look like right from the beginning.  You won't get a second chance to go back and take more photographs or sketches.
  8. Make a record of your journey - in a sketchbook, blog, or video - as well as in your paintings
I'll finish by wishing good luck to all fuuture applicants

The next post is about the best Travel Award Exhibition I've seen to date - by Carl Randall - here's a video as a taster - Carl Randall - Japan Portraits.  

For more about past years of the BP Travel Award 

See my previous posts on this blog


    1. First off, Congratulations Sophie!
      From what I have seen of her work this is well deserved and I have only seen it online.

      I will be following along on her project.
      I very much enjoy this sort of deeply involved artistic journey. It certainly takes not only commitment, but especially a patiently mannered artist to see that common thread right through to the end and make it all happen, ( no pun intended but apropos none the less).

      If her lace art works, and portraits too, are any indication she has right stuff for this.
      She obviously has a great love for her subject as is clearly evident in her paintings.

    2. better late than never: Thank you David! Lots has happened since this post - do find out on my blog.
      Thank you Katherine, as always.


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