Tuesday, July 04, 2017

Interview with Benjamin Sullivan, Winner of the BP Portrait Award 2017 - plus his portraits 2006-2016

The point about the exhibition is to be in it - the prize is just a bonus

I've uploaded my interview with Ben Sullivan, the 2017 Winner of the £30,000 BP Portrait award to my YouTube Channel in which he offers some excellent advice to all aspiring portrait artists.

You can watch it below or on YouTube where you can access the bigger HD version.



I've done something a little different with the video this time - and added a montage at the end. I think aspiring artists who want to get their work selected on a regular basis can learn a lot by looking at Ben's portraits over the years.

Given this is Ben's 13th appearance in the BP Portrait Award Exhibitions - which I'm convinced is a record which may never be equalled - at the end of the video you will find images of his previous portraits from 2006-2016.

The montage of portraits - year by year - represents a kind of pathway to a prize. Plus gives aspiring BP Portrait artists something to contemplate as they think about what they are going to paint for 2018! (see my suggestions below of what to study while you view).

(Note: Ben also had a portrait in the 2002 exhibition - but I've never seen that one).

Ben Sullivan with Ginnie and 15 month old Edie (at her second BP Awards ceremony!)
Breech! - Winner of the BP Portrait Award 2017

Oil on canvas, 820 x 400mm
It also helps enormously if you have a very supportive wife! I've been using the file label "Team Sullivan" for my photos of the Sullivan family  this year for a very good reason!

Ginnie has now featured in seven of Ben's 13 portraits selected for BP Portrait Award exhibitions in 2002 and 2006-2017 - and below you can see four of the portraits.


Ginnie
(selected for BP Portrait Award Exhibition 2007)

copyright Ben Sullivan
Life
(Selected for the BP Portrait Award Exhibition 2009)

copyright Ben Sullivan

Study 
(Selected for BP Portrait Award 2011)
copyright Ben Sullivan

Virginia Sullivan
- his first painting of Ginnie after their marriage in Autumn 2013
(Selected for BP Portrait Award 2014)
copyright Ben Sullivan

As I've said previously, I've been following the work of Ben Sullivan for a very long time.  I knew that he would win the BP Portrait Prize one day - it was just a question of when!

BELOW is the very first portrait painting I ever saw by Ben Sullivan.

It won the Lynn Painter-Stainers Prize in 2007 - and is referenced in my video as yet another prize-winning painting of Ginnie in a dressing gown! I think maybe Ginnie should buy a new dressing gown with the winnings and they should keep going!

New Life
Winner of the Lynn Painter-Stainers Award 2007
copyright Ben Sullivan
Things you will note if you watch the video all the way are:
  • Ben emphasises in the video that the REALLY IMPORTANT important thing is to be included in the exhibition rather than win a prize. Winning a prize is a wonderful bonus but shouldn't be the aim. He says being in the exhibition over the years has given him lots of exposure and lots of commissions!
  • Note Ben achieves very good likenesses of his subjects - which will always bring commissions....
  • He's precise and realistic but also painterly. I love his painting of skin which reflects colour in a way which tells you how this person spends their life
  • ALL the paintings are of the upper torso or the whole body. The upper torso always includes the hands (and I maintain that if you want to "make it" as a portrait painter and get commissions you need to demonstrate you can "do" hands)
  • Ben's 'perspective' is very interesting - sit a friend in a chair and then compare what he paints with what you can see and check the perspective!
  • He has a talent for editing but preserving the normality of a scene (e.g. the perennial cups of tea and coffee in paintings of friends and family) which keeps his portraits "grounded" and very accessible
  • Subjects who are not used to posing very often have clasped hands - which I guess stops them fidgeting when trying to paint the hands!
  • More formal portraits tend to have a plain background
  • Portraits of friends and family are generally done in his studio and the painting records his studio over time as much as the subject.
Aspiring portraits artists will also be interested to know that the portraits are very different sizes. I've included the sizes below where these are identified. (I do wish the BP Portrait website had continued to include the sizes - it's really important information)
  • 2006 - Mandy, Ginnie and Katie
  • 2007 - Ginnie - girlfriend
  • 2008 - On Duddery Road (triptych) - Ginnie and home
  • 2009 - Life (1060 x 510mm) - Ginnie in the studio
  • 2010 - Buttery Assistant (457 x 250mm) from the All Souls project
  • 2011 - Study (750 x 300mm) Ginnie studies to be a teacher
  • 2012 - Head Porter (245 x 345mm) - from the All Souls Project
  • 2013 - Craig Eden (1040 x 540mm) - friend
  • 2014 - Virginia Sullivan - wife
  • 2015 - Julian Bingley - friend
  • 2016 - Hugo - poet
If you're interested in commissioning a portrait by Ben Sullivan then you need to contact him via his website - and tell him you read about him on Making A Mark! ;)


About the BP Portrait Award Exhibition 2017

Below are my blog posts about this year's exhibition - which include other posts which have videos plus how you can see the exhibition as it tours the UK

Previous posts about the BP Portrait Award 2017

Where you can see the exhibition


The BP Portrait Award Exhibition will be on display at the following venues:
  • National Portrait Gallery, London all summer. It opens to the public on 22 June and continues until 24 September 2017 (Admission Free)
  • Royal Albert Memorial Museum and Art Gallery Exeter (4 October – 3 December 2017); 
  • Scottish National Portrait Gallery, Edinburgh (December 2017 – March 2018); 
  • Sunderland Museum and Winter Gardens (March – June 2018.)

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