Thursday, June 26, 2014

A video interview with Thomas Ganter, Winner of the BP Portrait Award 2014

Thomas Ganter, winner of the BP Portrait Award 2014
with his winning portrait "Man with a Plaid Blanket"
oil on vanvas 1600mm x 600mm
Thomas Ganter kindly gave me a video interview about winning the BP Portrait Award 2014, the morning after the Awards Ceremony at the National Portrait Gallery

I'm very grateful to Thomas for giving me an interview when English is not his first language - and to Neil Evans at the NPG for letting us stay on to get a quieter gallery for the Interview.

About the portrait

Man with a plaid blanket
by Thomas Ganter
oil on canvas 1600mm x 600mm
The portrait selected as the best of the work submitted in 2014 for the BP Portrait Award  is called Man with a Plaid Blanket. It's painted using oil on canvas and it measures 1600mm x 600mm.

This is what the judges thought about it

Judges’ comments - Man with a Plaid Blanket

‘All the judges were struck by the intensity of the sitter’s gaze and how every texture and surface was rendered in intricate detail - from the icon-like gold chain fence to the rose in the crumpled paper cup’.
I have to say this painting does not render well at less than high resolution so if you disagree with the comments I can only refer you to the comments of both the other prizewinners who both agreed you had to see it in person to appreciate why it won.

This is what Thomas had to say
"Most of my canvases try to capture to beauty of visual appearances while including a message, whether it's the impact of globalisation or the social inequality."
His aim it to get us to reframe how we see the world.  His prizewinning portrait does just that. He invites us to consider the juxtaposition of wealth and poverty and the worth of the ordinary human being.

It is a complete original. It starts from him seeing a homeless man.......
‘After being in a museum, I saw a homeless man and was stunned by a similarity: the clothes, the pose, and other details resembled what I just saw in various paintings. However, this time I was looking at a homeless person wrapped in a blanket and not at the painting of a saint or noble in their elaborate garment. By portraying a homeless man in a manner reserved for nobles or saints, I tried to emphasise that everyone deserves respect and care. Human dignity shouldn’t be relative or dependent on socio-economic status’.
The museum he had been visiting on a rainy afternoon was The Städel. One of the most important collections of Old Master paintings can be seen in the art museum called the Städelsches Kunstinstitut und Städtische Galerie in Frankfurt am Main. This includes masterpieces by Dürer, Grünewald, Holbein, and Elsheimer, Rembrandt, Vermeer, Brueghel, Rubens, Mantegna, Botticelli, Tiepolo and Batoni, Poussin and Chardin - see examples on the website. I'm left wondering whether the Altar retable 'Mio da Siena' was an important influence.  A pointer for those submitting in future years - do take a look at the very many ways in which people have been portrayed in days long gone. There is rarely anything completely new but there is certainly an awful lot to learn from.

Thomas spent two months working out his ideas and how to represent them in terms of visual language on the canvas. Three artists he has identified as influential to that process are Velazquez, Hans Holbein and Jan van Eyck.  He then spent three months painting the portrait.

His model for the work was a local homeless man called Karel Strnad who earned money by washing car windows.

The face of Man with a Plaid Blanket by Thomas Ganter
It's certainly a work which repays seeing in person and closer inspection. Suzanne du Toit, the 1013 winner, admired his painting of the plaid blanket very much.  I particularly like both face and hands. I think aspiring entrants to this competition should note that yet again we have a complete upper torso.  In fact all three shortlisted paintings had both face and hands.

This is what I had to say about it when the works were shortlisted. Bear in mind I had the tremendous benefit of having seen the high resolution photos of each work.
My gut says Ganter will win. There's something very penetrating and yet enduring about that portrait and themes it raises. Plus I've never ever seen another painting like it in the BP and originality counts for a lot.
Which means I'm officially very please to have yet again spotted the winner! I must do a countback sometime to work out my strike rate!

About Thomas Ganter

Thomas works in the art business - but his business is illustration. He cofounded Kawon, an animation and illustration agency in 2001. It has a seriously impressive website showcasing their work - but it's a very different sort of work to this award-winning portrait.

His illustration work helps him with his painting
"Being an illustrator helps my by the daily exercise of drawing, painting and thinking in concepts"
He was born in 1974 in Limburg - so 40 this year - and as you can hear in the film he heard his work had been selected the day before his 40th birthday.

Thomas studied illustration at the University of Applied Sciences Wiesbaden, Germany and in 2001 got a Diploma: Trailer Animation and Character Expressions. Thomas also used to hold a Lectureship for Life Drawing and elementary drawing.

He refers to his painting as a passion and it's one which also allows him to follow his own ideas rather than those relating to his clients' needs or projects.

Painting might not be what he does full time but he certainly put a lot of thought and effort into this painting.

I liked the idea that he continued to develop his techniques when his first submissions did not succeed.  It's a message which should bring hope to those who have submitted in the past and are thinking about submitting again in the future.

TOMORROW - I'll be posting video interviews with the second and third prizewinners - Richard Twose and David Jon Kassan - and after that it's my video review of the exhibition and then it's on to the BP Travel Award!

Other reviews

BP Portrait Award - previous years

I've been covering the BP Portrait Award for some years and have an extensive archive of posts relating to previous competitions which I know are much studied by those contemplating an entry!

BP Portrait Award - Shortlisted artists on Making A Mark:

BP Portrait Award 2012

BP Portrait Award 2011

BP Portrait Award 2010

BP Portrait Award 2009

BP Portrait Award 2008


  1. Great article and video interview, thank you!

  2. Thanks so much once again Katherine, it's a fab interview and a really great piece of work. I will be in London at the end of next week and will definitely go and see the exhibition. Please tell me is that gold leaf in the background? Thomas has done really well to offset the poverty against a background of opulence. Sometimes less is more isn't it. Looking forward to the next interview. Thanks once again. Anne

  3. It certainly looks like gold leaf to me Anne since he's scraped into it and it's got that 'look'.

    However I did forget to ask!


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