Thursday, February 21, 2019

Review: Episode 2 of Portrait Artist of the Year 2019

This week's episode of Sky Arts Portrait Artist of the Year 2019 has sparked a bit of a controversy online - of which more anon. 

Suffice to say that yet again the judges' judgement has been called into question by the British viewing public! But I think I have an answer as to what happened.....

A view of two of the sets for the sitters and painters in Episode 2

As usual what you'll find below is:
  • a list of the professional and amateur artists participating in Episode 2 of the series
  • my commentary on themes which I spotted
  • who got shortlisted
  • who won the Heat and goes through to the Semi-Finals.
More about the competition and the judges in my first blog post - listed at the end.

In summary the series works like this:
  • Episodes 1 - 6 - Heats filmed at the Wallace Collection where the public can also watch.
  • Episode 7 - Six Heat Winners meet for the Semi-Final
  • Episode 8 - The Final at the National Portrait Gallery culminating in the announcement of the winner
  • Episode 9 - A programme about "the artist of the year journey" and painting the commission.
Life is being made "interesting" for me every week because I'm alway sat at the beginning of every episode waiting for one of the finalists to appear - because I know what they look like and how they paint - because I was at the final of this series at the NPG in June last year!

You can view a Heat in person in the series which will be broadcast next year if you get yourself along to the BRAND NEW VENUE at Battersea Arts Centre from 2nd-12th April 2019 (not including the weekend). Doors will open to the public at 10am.

The Artists, Self-portraits and Sitters

PLEASE NOTE - as always:
  • a link to the artist's website is embedded in their name - click the link to see more of their artwork
  • Links to their social media accounts are also provided if sent to me in advance and/or I can find them online. Mainly because of them not getting proper credits in the programme!
  • a link to the speeded up time lapse video of each artist working on their portrait follows the social media links 
  • see the end of this post re how to contact me re. any errors of spelling or links ASAP
This episode we have 3 professional artists and 6 amateur artists.

Who made it to the shortlist of three?

The Professional Artists

  • Lindsey Gallacher (Facebook | Twitter | Instagram) - video - graduated (2000) with a First Class Hons. degree from Edinburgh College of Art in Jewellery and Silversmithing. She has a workshop in Swanson street, Thurso, Caithness (in Scotland). She's been creating contemporary jewellery and other forms of Art for 18 years. She describes herself as "a Caithness stone jewellery and scratch artist" but also confesses to being a total novice when it comes to using scratchboard for portraits. You can see more of her scratch art on her website.
  • Fátima Pantoja (Facebook | Twitter | Instagram) - video - From Spain but now based in Hampshire. Freelance Fine Artist specialising in: live portraiture, illustration and sculptures. She also teaches
  • Hannah Shergold (Facebook | Twitter | Instagram) - video - Ex Army helicopter pilot (she used to fly a Lynx). Wild Card winner of those artists invited to paint portraits from a screen at last year's final. Graduated  from Cambridge University in 2006 having studied pre-clinical Veterinary Medicine and changed tack to establish herself as a highly respected bronze sculptor. 2009, she joined the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst and was commissioned into the Army Air Corps. 

The Amateur Artists

  • Lucy Li Chenhui (Facebook) - video - Was an A Level student at Westminster School, UK at the time of the Final. Now studying Economics and management at St Hugh's College, University of Oxford. Founder of Oxford University Art Club. Art Renewal Centre 13th Salon Finalist. Ruth Borchard Self Portrait Prize Exhibition Artist
  • Aisling Coughlan - video - born in Dublin in 1962, and gained a degree in psychology before taking up part time study at The National College of Art and Design in Dublin. A a figurative artist and works with primarily in acrylic and watercolour She exhibits in Ireland.  This is a link to her blog post about the experience of taking part and being filmed for this episode
  • Rodney Kingston (Facebook | Twitter | Instagram) - video - studied foundation art and design at Wimbledon School of Art and a graphic design degree at Camberwell College of Arts. He has worked full-time on weekly print publications since 2006. Participated in Landscape Artist of the Year 2017. He's written a blog post about the self-portrait he painted for his entry to the exhibition
  • Rachael Spain - video - Lives in East London and on a sabbatical from her financial services career in the City of London. No social media from what I can see.
  • Beth Sparks [Instagram] - video -  Lives in Bedfordshire and works in London as an Office Manager. Foundation Art & Design at the University of Northampton. 
  • Boris Takam (Facebook | Instagram) - video - electrical and electronic engineering student at Manchester University

The Self Portrait Review

The self-portraits on the wall had a variation this heat. That's because the heat included Hannah Shergold who had been awarded a place on the strength of the portrait she produced in the final last year - while sat in a side room looking at a screen.

The rest varied in size a lot as per normal.

The ones which appealed to me were
  • the watercolour on Aquabord by Rachel Spain - staring straight at the viewer
  • the "puritan Amish" style scratchbord portrait by Lindsey Gallagher - staring straight out at the viewer (at this point I'm wondering whether Ampersand ought to get a mention) 
  • Fátima Pantoja's energetic colourful and well drawn self-portrait - staring straight at the viewer
  • Rodney Kingston's stare over this should - straight at the viewer
It's not coincidental that they are staring straight at the viewer - I'm seeing much more of the face and upper torso as a result.

The Sitters

The sitters were very well behaved and "good heads" as well as "good eggs". They were in alphabetical order
  • David Gandy - model
  • Anne Reid - actress
  • Ashley Walters - British rapper and actor (he listed to meditation tapes!)
I'm finding the different art theme each week to be extremely tedious - and it's only week 2. That's the limit of my comments on this "innovation" for this series - other than to ask whether the programme makers are seriously trying to distract the artists?

Discussions and Observations

My comments this week can be viewed as the foundations for my comments later on - when we get to judging and selection. See if you can read between the lines and interpret the code. I'm actually not being very opaque....

Unusual styles and media

I'm convinced that those submitting self-portraits which
  • either use approaches to portraiture which are very unusual
  • and/or use media which is very unusual or not often used for portraiture
are much more likely to get selected for the Heats. That is an official TIP from me.

Imagine for example if every artist painted traditionally in watercolour or acrylic or oil how bored we would get.  There seems to be a conscious effort by the programme makers to promote diversity in portraiture so people can appreciate the very many different ways of creating a portrait.

This of course means that sometimes you get people using media which they are not necessarily very familiar with. Or they switch media once they've got into the Heat and ignore the fact that it was the use of a specific sort of media which got them there.

Bottom line, from my perspective, I've not no objection whatsoever to the Judges seeking to vary what type of artists produce artwork each week.

However we need to recognise that this can mean that we've got a lot of good painters of a certain sort - and they will only pick one of them.  So if your portrait painting looks quite a lot like other people's portrait painting you might want to reflect on that.

Heads versus hands

Speaking personally, as somebody who comments a lot on portraiture competitions and exhibitions, I don't call anybody a portrait artist if they can't paint most of the torso - INCLUDING HANDS.

My definition of "can't paint hands" is that they have every opportunity to do so but choose not to.

Kate commented to the effect that if done properly hands needs as much time and attention as the head. I totally agree. I'd go further and say that badly painted hands undermine the entire portrait.

They are, if you like, the third leg of the trio of anatomical elements that can cause palpitations amongst portrait artists - eyes, mouth and hands.

That's not to say I'm expecting hands to be painted in the Heat given the ridiculously short time they have. However I do expect to be able to see competence in that respect BEFORE the Final
  • either in the self-portrait sent as an entry (pure speculation on my part - but I bet there's not a lot of good paintings of hands turned away)
  • or the Heat Portrait 
  • or the Semi-Final Portrait
  • or the Commission before the Final portrait
and if you win and you still haven't painted hands I still won't call you a portrait artist!

So there - now you know where I stand on hands! :)
Which is important given comments below....

Brutally accurate vs flattery

Should a portrait artist paint what they see - or should they flatter their sitter?

It's an eternal question and one which which is a challenge for every portrait artist. It's also a  question that needs to be asked and answered before any artist starts a portrait.

Problematic sitters

There was passing reference to the fact certain sitters can pose problems for artists
  • the very good-looking sitter can be distracting - and perfection is very difficult to convey well
  • the older person has skin which sags and a skin colour which is different to a younger person. If you've not painted an older person before, the features which are characteristic of an older person may well not be present in your portrait.

Decision Time

Sitters choose portrait to take home

The sitters chose as follows
  • Ashley Walters chose the macro head portrait by Hannah Shergold
  • Anne Reid chose the painting by Rodney Kingston - because it portrayed her as a strong woman
  • David Gandy chose the charcoal and pastel portrait by Fatimer Pantojer
I recognise me in this - it's my facial expression - David Gandy

"I've just created a portrait of David Gandy and now he tells me why he likes it!"

Judges choose shortlist of three

The Judges chose  the following - listed here in alphabetical order:
  • Lindsey Gallagher
  • Rodney Kingston
  • Fátima Pantoja
They described them as
Three completely different and complete works
It wouldn't have been my shortlist - although Fátima would very definitely be on it.

Self portrait and portrait of Ashley Walters by Lindsey Gallagher
Self portrait and portrait of Anne Reid by Rodney Kingston
Self Portrait and Portrait of David Gandy by Fátima Pantoja
I can however see how, when looking at two portraits together, that the portraits by Rodney and Lindsey had some appeal. In both instances, we're looking at a clear and consistent style

These are the pics of the self-portrait and heat portrait together

Things the Judges liked:

  • portraits which are distinctive and speak of the artist and their style
  • the thinking behind a colour palette
  • the bold use of colour - indicating the artist is not afraid of experiments
  • not pixelating the colour too much
  • portraits where bits were right - even when other bits were wrong
  • being impressed by artists who are expert in their use of media

Things the Judges were less keen on portraits where:

  • the artist was unable to sustain promising beginnings
  • the artist failed to get a likeness ( by which I mean you can make errors in drawing and proportion and yet the subject can still be totally recognizable )
  • the artist spends too much time on "extraneous stuff" and fails to get the basics right eg draughtsmanship and likeness (i.e. style over substance does not win)

Things the public were less keen on

  • The Judges Shortlist - which omitted Hannah Shergold

Ashley Walters admires his portrait by Hannah Shergold - before choosing to take it home
It was an obvious choice for me - and it would be Hannah's - Ashley Walters
There was a mini Twitter viral storm in relation to the omission of Hannah Shergold from the shortlist - and I have to say I agree with them.

I even did a mini poll on my Facebook page and the conclusion, after 163 votes were cast (although some were made in error where people clicked before reading) was that 83% thought Hannah should have been included in the shortlist.

For me, she was the only person of all the artists who managed to combine the background and the portrait in a way which created a unity but made a clear statement about what was the background and which face was the real subject.  (Not that I would recommend any of the artists to include the wholly irrelevant backgrounds!)

I also think she was the ONLY person in her group who got a really good likeness of Ashley (irrespective of her bold use of colours) - and it was also the portrait he chose for himself. There was something about "the look" of it and the way he held his head. In part that was because she gridded up her support using an iPad - and consequently her proportions were pretty much spot on. That said it was only part of the head i.e. side profile

The key to understanding the shortlist is this exchange during the Judges final decision-making
When we pit those two against one another each are we confident that is the one that we want to put forward of that sort of style. (Kathleen Soriano)
If I could only have of those two I'd definitely have that one (Kate Bryan)
They were talking about the portrait by Fátima and the portrait by Hannah - and the reason I know this is because of the size of the supports and the fact that you can see the colouration of the background colour even from the back of the support.  So I think Hannah was a very near miss for the shortlist - and she definitely got considered for it

More importantly, what this tells us is that the Judges seem to be making a conscious effort NOT to put forward two similar artists from each Heat. They are trying to continue to promote diversity in approach and style - and media where possible. 

This suggests that if there are (say) five paintings at the end of a Heat which "meet the standard" for a shortlist, then you can be pretty certain if three look similar then only one of those will make it the shortlist

Which rather suggests that if you spot somebody who is similar to you painting in your Heat, you need to make sure that your two portraits are the best portraits if they get lined up next to one another.

It also suggests that you can give yourself a really good head start by submitting the very best possible self-portrait you can do.

I can understand what the Judges are doing and have some sympathy for it. I know for certain that if Fátima had not been in that Heat then Hannah's portrait would have definitely been on the shortlist and she may well have won.  However I agree with the Judges that Fátima's pair of portraits were better - and I explain why below.

Episode 2 Winner

Yet again I will remind readers that the decision is arrived at after reviewing both the initial portrait - and the portrait done in the Heat i.e. the decision is NOT made on the basis of the Heat Portrait alone.

The three shortlisted artists with their Heat Portraits

The Judges decided that the Heat Winner was Fátima Pantoja
The Heat Winner - Fatima Pantoja
Like last week there was a lot of support for another artist on Twitter. (much more so than last time)

However - as I indicate above - I think the reason Hannah's portrait of Ashley wasn't on the shortlist was because Fatima's portrait of David was.

Bottom line- in a straight run-off between the two portraits, Fátima's won for me every time because:
  • she eyeballed the draughtsmanship - rather than using an ipad and photo to give her pointers for structure and tones
  • it was a more complete portrait - including his hands (which were good)
  • it was a more complete face - being head-on rather than a side profile
  • it demonstrated a bold use of colour - and had a much wider palette than Hannah's (although both were equally well judged)
  • despite nearly bringing the kitchen sink with her in terms of media options, Fátima persevered with the use of dry media (charcoal and then soft pastels) she started with and built on her good start rather than losing the both likeness and the impact and energy of her colour and mark-making as she progressed the portrait.
A close-up of the David Gandy portrait - and Fátima's pastel technique
This is how she painted it in pastels. For the record, I could certainly spot Unisons and and a few other brands. See what you can spot!

Fatima Pantoja from Storyvault Films on Vimeo.

How to contact me

If I've made a mistake about your website or social media listings, I'm very happy to change them if you contact me. You can do this either via the email on this contact page or via the post about this episode on my Making A Mark Facebook Page

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More Learning Points re. Sky Arts Portrait Artist of the Year

PLUS below are my blog posts from last year which contains lots of learning points about painting in this competition for those aspiring to compete this year.

Learning Points re the 2019 competition

Learning Points re the 2018 Competition

Below are my PREVIOUS blog posts about the 2018 competition and my reviews of the heats, semi-finals and final - in which I comment on specific aspects for aspiring future contestants!

How to enter PAOTY 2020 and how to watch if you don't have Sky