Thursday, April 11, 2019

Review: Semi-Final of Portrait Artist of the Year 2019

The Semi-Final Episode of Sky Arts Portrait Artist of the Year 2019 was broadcast on Tuesday - and can still be watched via Now TV.

Portait artists painting Courtney Pine

The Semi Finalists

There were nine semifinalists - five men and four women.

These included six professional artists
  • EPISODE 1 - Geoff Harrison (Portraits website | Facebook | Instagram | Twitter) - Stockport man (which greatly appealed to Stockport woman Joan Bakewell! Undergraduate degree in Fine Art Printmaking from the School of Art in Hull; lived in Japan for several years but now lives in London. He did an MA Japanese Studies at SOAS in 2009. Involved with anatomical painting and illustration and medical arts. Has had two residencies: Artist in Residence at Barts Pathology Museum at St. Bart's Hospital + Leverhulme residency at The Royal Veterinary College (see his paintings) He has also been shortlisted for the Royal Society of Portrait Painters' Bulldog Bursary and long-listed for the BP Portrait Award. He produces portraits on commission - and schedules painting around looking after this children.
The Heat felt awesome just to be there.  But if you win something, you kind of get a taste for it and the stakes are higher 
The nine Semi Finalists

Three young amateur artists - who were all students at the time of the Semi Finals
and three amateur artists
  • EPISODE 3Sara Lavelle (Twitter | Instagram) - video - Foundation Diploma in Art and Design (Distinction) at Falmouth University and then went on to study Illustration BA (Hons) at the University of Brighton. As a final year graduate she had only recently taken up painting. Now based in London.
  • EPISODE 7 Annie Lee (Annabella Lee) (Facebook/ Twitter / Instagram) - video - Took her art A Level a week after the heat. Now studying at Central Saint Martins. Spent an hour plotting features before starting to paint.
  • EPISODE 8 Tom Mead (Facebook / Instagram) - video - Always nice to see a website which includes evidence that the artist goes to life class and can draw from life! Currently doing a BA degree in Painting at the University of Arts (Wimbledon).  He creates paintings with a multifaceted perspective on individuals which suggest movement.  Loves to paint in acrylic.

What was different 

The semi-finals of Portrait Artist of the Year 2019 gets underway

Another new venue

For PAOTY 2018 they were at the Cafe de Paris. These semi-finals were at the Hackney Round Chapel in Clapton.
It has such a strong sense of place. It's uplifting. It's got to influence our artists today Kathleen Soriano

One sitter not two

Last year, the semi-finalists were surprised to find they were painting not one but two models.

This year, they return to just one sitter - the jazz musician Courtenay Pine who brought his sax to keep him company.

I gather he turned four hours late which must have made some production people rather fraught - and the painters rather tired by the end of the day.  It certainly explains to me why the episode seemed curiously 'flat'. Maybe they'll be back to two sitters - just in case - next year (or maybe just one renowned for punctuality?)

What the Judges were looking for

We're looking for more narrative and more texture. We're going to have to get tougher with them Kate Bryan

  • This is still a four hour portrait where you know nothing about the sitter in advance. 
  • How do you provide or improve narrative when you have no chance to research or talk to the sitter?
  • How do people provide more texture in the same four hour painting slot - which is more like three?
  • Isn't the challenge tougher for the artists - - they are now up against other Heat Winners not 'also rans'. 
  • Shouldn't the Judges be bringing the same criteria to their Judgement in the semi-finals as they did in the Heats. In other words they're looking for the best portrait - however they care to define that.
We understand portraits to be about what people look like. What I want the artists today is get beyond the surface and try to capture the spirit of their sitter and tell us all what it is like to be human in the 21st century Tai Shan Schierenberg
Tai also felt that Courtney playing the artists some music was enough to give them some insight into him as a person.

Those are nice aspirations and ones I'd agree are entirely appropriate challenges for a portrait artist. But in four hours - when you are MUCH further away than you would normally be - because all nine need to paint the sitter (and the cameras still need to be able to get in front) - and cannot chat in the way that you can when one on one? That's a pretty tall challenge - and IMO quite possibly an impossible one.

It's unclear whether either Judge articulated these expectations to the artists.

But they didn't stop there.

They let Joan Bakewell explain what else the Judges expect!
I'm going to ask you reflect his music in what you paint
How exactly do you do that when the first you hear it is just before you start - in a highly artificial setting. To be frank I'd do what most did - and ignore it!

Criteria need to fit the context. I don't think these do. I think they hobbled the artists to a certain extent. Decide the criteria at the beginning of the competition and then stick to these throughout.  You don't change criteria - once you've worked out what is reasonable for the context - what you look for instead is people meeting the criteria in better ways.

To be frank I didn't think the portraits in the Semi-Finals were as good as the ones done in the Heats - with a few exceptions. Indeed I was really disappointed by a few artists who I expected to do well. I think these statements about what they're expecting is in part responsible for that.

We should have had a set of portraits which were knock-out - and I don't think we did.
I don't blame the artists - I blame the Judges.

Intense concentration by Archie, Geoff, Fátima and Duncan

What the judges liked and disliked

They liked....
  • the quality and range of the semi-finalists
  • the fact that Sarah Lavelle had switched to Courtney Pine for her music to paint by and was channeling him through her headphones!
  • Duncan turning up the volume - although essentially doing more of what they've already seen
  • Catherine's portrait a lot - but worried about her over-working
  • Tim's reference point to cubism in relation to musical instruments
  • artists who were competitors

They disliked

  • artists who didn't get a likeness
  • slow starts and not getting enough work done
  • sticking to what they know - for too long.

Which portraits I liked

The ones I liked tended to
  • think about the whole from the start
  • find the colours in his skin
  • demonstrated progress in painting portraits
The ones that really disappointed me - because I liked the artists work in the past - ducked the sax until too late - or got their proportions wrong - or sadly used a 'trite' suggestion of music very late in the day.

Decision Time

The Final Line-Up

The Sitter's Choice

Courtney Pine reviewed all the paintings of the saxophones - and then himself. When asked which one he wanted to choose he didn't hesitate - he went straight for the portrait by Tom Mead - I think because it had an element of the fragmentation and discontinuities which you can get in Jazz.

Courtney Paine by Tom Mead
Note the odd little patches of colour as well as the disjointed sax and the extra eye!

The Judge's Choices

Those artists chosen for the Final were:
  • Tom Mead
  • Duncan Shoosmith
  • Sara Lavelle
The Finalists - Sarah, Duncan and Tom
They chose three very different styles. They also chose on the basis of potential as well as the painting produced.

I had Duncan down as a shoo-in from the very start. He got off to a really good start - and just kept finding more and more colour in the skin tones and generally looking like a sound choice. Plus Tai likes how he paints.

Tom started in a very interesting fashion and finished strongly - he'd done enough, although doubtless he could improve on the portrait if he'd had more time. He was positioning items in a musical way.

Sarah went off in a new direction and away from her normal pale colours and I think that appeals to the Judges - when an artist is on a journey. She too was one of those who found interesting colours in the skin hue and tones.

Courtney Paine by Sarah Lavelle

Courtney Paine by Duncan Shoosmith

and finally - next week....

It's the Final - at the National Portrait Gallery.

Which is a bit odd for me - because I've already seen it - because I was in fact there for the afternoon - having spotted the Judges near the Lifts as I came out of BP Portrait Award Press View on my way to do an interview with the winner!

I'm not going to make a prediction because I have seen the portraits done in the Final. Mind you I don't know the result!

The way it works is there are two programmes on Tuesday 16th April 2019.
  • Episode 10: The Final Proper - featuring the American actress and singer Laura Linney as the sitter
  • Episode 11: The Commission - which is about the painting of the portrait of musical icon and singer Sir Tom Jones - and that one is already on the Now TV website - but cannot be accessed until next Tuesday.
I'll leave you with the three commissioned portraits for the Finals....

I was ever so good - and didn't sneak a peak!

But it's really interesting that two are landscape format! :)

Three commissioned portraits for the Final - NOT done in 4 hours!

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 watch if you don't have Sky

How to watch PAOTY 2020 LIVE!

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