Thursday, February 13, 2020

Review: Episode 4 of Portrait Artist of the Year 2020

This is a review of Episode 4 of Sky Arts Portrait Artist of the Year 2020 - filmed at the Battersea Arts Centre last April.

View of the Heat which became Episode 4 of Portrait Artist of the Year 2020

Episode 4: The Artists, Self-portraits and Sitters

The Artists sat outside Battersea Arts Centre (for a photo op!)
As always links to
Do watch the videos - it's an eye-opener even for those who have already watched the programme

    All the artists lined up waiting to hear which three are going to get shortlisted

    The professional artists

    The professional artists are:
    It sounded like my idea of hell. Contestants got just four hours to paint a celebrity on camera – whilst being gawped at by members of the public. I’m uncomfortable with the idea of having my process seen. I almost never share work in progress shots on social media, and I dislike even one person watching me sketch or paint. I hate the idea of ‘timed creativity’ and generally work in a very slow, angst-filled way. Anyone who interrupts me risks a paintbrush in an orifice. Yet I enjoyed the show as a viewer, and there was still part of me that just wondered what would happen if I masked my doubts and tried it. It looked, on some level, fun.
    • Christopher Hanson (Instagram) - currently based in South London and Wolverhampton in the west Midlands. Trained in traditional painting. Spent several years as a art tutor VIDEO
    • Eleanor Johnson (Instagram) - based in London, UK (b.1994). She graduated from University College London with a BA in History of Art in 2017 and is currently undertaking an MA in Fine Art at City & Guilds of London Art School. Won the Young Artist Award at the Society of Women Artists Annual Exhibition in 2018 (I KNEW she looked familar!). VIDEO
    Her work considers the intangible zone between absence and presence – both visually, physically and psychologically. (her about page)
    • Lee Rotherforth (Facebook | Instagram) - A professional artist working on the east coast of North Yorkshire - based in Saltburn on Sea. Inspired by Turner, Rembrandt and John Singer Sargent. Predominantly a commission based painter focusing on portraiture and animal portraiture (he paints wonderful dogs!) and teaching art to people in Cleveland and Teesside. He often incorporates found objects into his art. VIDEO
    • Christine Roychowdhury - an artist living and working in Aberdeen, Scotland. Studied Art at Goldsmiths College, London. VIDEO

    The amateur artists

    The amateur artists are:
    • Jenny Campbell (Instagram) - a student support assistant from Bedfordshire. She's teaching herself to paint by copying other artists and she's a Tai fangirl. This is her selfportraitVIDEO
    • Ross Macauley (Instagram)- born in Canda and now lives in Glasgow and works in a bookshop. His self portrait was in the BP Portrait Award in 2017 (when he also featured on my blog in my annual artists with their paintings post) and he also made it to the semi-final in 2017 - when he was painting in oils. This time he used oil pastels (which must be much easier to move around!). He's also regularly exhibited with RSA Open Exhibition and Scottish Portrait Awards. I have to say I prefer his oil paintings. VIDEO
    • John Meredith (no website or social media). Originally from Crickhowell, he now lives in Allt-Yr-Yn, Newport in Wales. He's a retired art teacher (Risca Comprehensive School) and amateur artist. He likes drawing using graphite and has indulged his love of sketching in his retirement. This is a local news article about him and his artwork. VIDEO
    • Eilidh Smith (Facebook | Instagram | Twitter) Lives on the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides. She has developed a very stylised abstracted way of painting people using her iphone as a reference (which I think might mean she could also be using an app to get the abstracted nature of the features). She works as an Admin Assistant. VIDEO
    The artists are all competing to win a £10,000 commission to paint Nile Rodgers for the Albert Hall - although none of them knew this when they painted in the Heats last year.

    The self portraits

    • There were two monochrome and seven coloured self-portraits.
    • One was huge and another was one of the smallest I've ever seen submitted - both made it to the shortlist, but for different reasons
    • In terms of what artists attempted, there was:
      • one x head
      • four x head and shoulders / upper torso
      • two x Head and torso plus (although one was a bit mangled!)
      • one x body + dog!

    The Sitters

    The sitters in this heat were:

    • Asim Chaudhry - a British comedian and actor best known for playing Chabuddy G in the BBC mockumentary series People Just Do Nothing, which he co-created. and for which he won a Royal Television Society Award (Best Comedy Actor).
    • Russell Tovey - an actor from essex whose parts include playing Rudge in both the stage and film versions of The History Boys - and who is a bit of an art collector. His dog Rocky also starred in this episode.
    • Doreen Mantle a a partially blind actress in her 90s who has appeared in very many television series since the early 60s and is probably best known now for her role in One Foot in the Grave.
    The theme of the backdrops was apparently supposed to be Georgia O'Keeffe - but it looked a very off version of O'Keeffe to this O'Keeffe fan!

    Episode 4: Themes

    The themes I picked up for this episode are as follows:

    Tracing from an iPad

    I didn't pick this one up until I watched the videos of the artists completing their portraits.
    • tracing from an ipad is NOT a good look
    • tracing slows you down considerably
    • tracing one part but not the rest means part of your painting is going to be out of proportion.
    By the same token drawing the entire drawing from your iPad is also a slow process.

    My recommendation: try learning how to draw using a paint brush. The nature of most paint is you can paint over errors.

    In my view the best looking portrait was one which had the proportions roughed in - and then painting started.

    Brush Sizes vs Speed of Completing a Painting

    I don't think it is possible to emphasise enough that if you want to complete a portrait in the time allowed you need to
    • practice (a LOT!)
    • choose a size of canvas or support you are confident you can fill
    • choose brushes which will get the paint on the canvas fast
    Starting with tiny brushes for detail is not a good recipe for calming the nerves.  Nor is it a good way of getting the portrait finished.

    Some artists were:
    • using brushes which were far too small (I saw only one person using small brushes correctly)
    • applying paint far too slowly given the context
    Frankly I simply didn't see four hours of painting on some canvases.  I am so frustrated when I see potentially good artists simply not finishing - or having to paint too fast at the end to try and get it finished - because they spent far too long on just one part of the overall portrait.

    For upcoming artists in the 2021 Heats: If you can't apply more paint faster using bigger brushes then this is the time to start practising!

    ALSO - do take a look at the videos of each portrait being completed and note how much faster some artists paint and how much more paint they get on the support!

    Size and Type of Supports

    The key to completing a portrait to the standard you would like to show as representing you depends to a large extent on the size of the support you choose.

    Peter Field worked on what seemed to be a much bigger support than usual. I found myself wondering what his portrait would have been like if he's stuck to the size he seems to prefer usually.

    Lee Rotherforth is a man who seems to like painting on found materials. His self portrait was painted on a palette and his Heat Painting was painted on a broken table top that he'd taken the legs off.  Which means he always has the natural colour of wood as his backdrop - which means 'no painting' but also means no great contrast either......

    High Key vs Low Key vs Dramatic Contrast

    One of the things I keep noticing about the artwork that gets shortlisted is that it very often "performs" by being noticed, by looking different to the others.

    Reasons why this can occur is because the artists has deliberately chosen to go either low or high key for their paint palette - or makes sure the portrait bounces off the support by giving it a black background.  Artists in the Heats adopted different approaches
    • one went high key (light tones) - very pale and interesting and thoughtful and entirely compatible with the sitter
    • another went for low key - but failed to get sufficient contrast between and within the tones - so it was left looking rather flat
    • one gave it a black background - and the colours used for the portrait naturally bounced off your eyeballs as a result. I'm inclined to think anybody using a dark background is halfway to a shortlist if they can get the proportions right, deliver a good likeness and show some dexterity in the use of a brush and fluid paint!

    Decision Time

    Sitters choose portrait to take home

    Doreen slash David chose my portrait and the room once again applauded. My friends embraced me. It was a brilliant moment – though til my dying day I will also love and cherish the fact that I’m the first person in the history of Portrait Artist of the Year to have my painting chosen by a blind person. Peter Field's blog post
    The sitters chose portraits as follows:
    • Russell Tovey chose the portrait by Eleanor Johnson
    • Doreen Mantle's companion chose the portrait by Peter Field 
    • Asim Chaudhrey chose the portrait by Jenny Campbell
    Asim Chaudhrey by Jenny Campbell

    Judges choose shortlist of three

    This was undoubtedly a difficult heat to judge and some good Heat paintings were not shortlisted.  The Judges commented that they thought it was one of the strongest days they'd had.

    The artists the Judges shortlisted were:
    • Lee Rotherforth
    • Peter Field
    • Eleanor Johnson
    There is a fleeting moment in each episode where the three shortlisted artists line up next to one another and either grin or looked shocked at getting shortlisted. I don't think Eleanor got the tip-off about the lining up bit - hence we only saw her back.

    the three shortlisted artists have just been called....

    However matters were resolved later when they lined up for the decision as to who has won (see below).

    Waiting to find out who won
    (Left to right: Peter Field, Eleanor Johnson and Lee Rotherforth)
    Here are all three shortlisted artists lined up next to their Heat Portrait. Remember though that the decision is ALWAYS based on BOTH the self portrait and the heat painting and not just the latter.

    Who would you choose?

    Self portrait and Heat Painting by  Lee Rotherforth

    Crop of the portrait of Russell Tovey by Lee Rotherforth
    Tai was very unsure about the found materials at the beginning but came round to them over the course of the programme - in part due to the skills Lee employed in producing his portrait.  He was considered to be a very sensitive painter who was concerned about producing a sensitive portrait.

    I like it the best and would have liked to have seen him working on a larger support to see how much he could accomplish in the time allowed.

    His processes were also ones which I thought were much more compatible with getting a decent end result.

    Self portrait and Heat Painting by Peter Field
    Crop of the Portrait of Doreen Mantle by Peter Field
    The Judges considered Pater's painting of Doreen Mantle to be a very sensitive portrait. They liked the translucence of the skin tones. Tai described the portraits as being of thinking/feeling woman painted by a thinking/feeling man.

    I liked the palette, I thought it very much suited her age.

    Self portrait and Heat Painting by Eleanor Johnson
    crop of the portrait of Russell Tovey by Eleanor Johnson

    The Judges agreed that Eleanor had produced two very different artworks. However they also highlighted that they both had a sense of drama and an underlying narrative. They acknowledged that she had to paint from her iPhone because she'd chosen to paint a completely different head than the one she could see from her allotted point.

    I thought Russell's oversized head was a very good likeness. It was also the only one which stood out from the rest - in part because of the use of the black background.

    However I don't think it was the best painting or the best portrait....

    Episode 4 Winner

    Lining up for the announcement of who has won

    The Judges decided the winner of Episode 4 was Eleanor Johnson - because she
    showed intensity in psychological depth in portrait
    Judges comments included that the imbued storytelling and narrative seen in the submission have created major expectations for how she will perform in the semi-final. (I was there and I'm not saying a thing!).

    For me, the winner of this heat broke two "rules" of Portrait Artist of the Year - by which I mean two approaches demonstrated by the Judges time and time again. These are:
    • on the whole, the Judges are not fans of people who draw from their iPhone or iPad (unless they can't see the model)
    • almost always, there is a very close relationship between the self portrait submission and the artwork produced during the heat of those artists shortlisted for the final three in each heat.
    With respect to Eleanor:
    • her submission is a drawing of parts of her naked self - but she painted in the heat i.e. their only commonality is a certain invented drama
    • she used charcoal for the submission and painted in oils for the heat
    • she painted from her iphone for the entire heat - having decided she wanted to paint him full face and having a position which meant she had a three quarters profile (see top photo - her support obscures her view of the sitter ).
    I'm not saying this is good or bad - but it's certainly VERY odd!

    I also thought Lee Rotherforth was unlucky. For me, he's the better portrait painter, while Eleanor might be better at the drama and making a portrait stand out. I hope we see him again in a subsequent year.

    I also hope we also see Jenny Campbell again - as she produced a very good portrait of Asim Chaudhery - even if it was undramatic!

    NEXT WEEK: Episode 5

    The sitters next week are: John Cooper Clarke, Fearne Cotton, Haydn Gwynne

    The series so far is doing very well - with biggest audience on Sky Arts!

    More about Portrait Artist of the Year 2020 and 2021

    You can see all the self portrait submissions from Episode 4 in a larger size on the Artist of the Year Facebook Page.

    My reviews of previous episodes of this year's competition can be found below:
    Details of how to enter Portrait Artist of the Year 2021 can be found in my blog post Call for Entries: Portrait Artist of the Year 2021 BUT THE DEADLINE WAS LAST WEEK.

    The 2021 series will be filmed in March and April 2020 this year for broadcast starting in January 2021.

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