Tuesday, June 30, 2020

My top 10 portraits from BP Portrait Award 2020

What you see below is my choice of the ten portraits I liked the best in the virtual BP Portrait Award 2020. I've tried to pick up on themes I've commented on before - plus which portraits caught my eye and made me linger longer over the image

It's very difficult to review an exhibition which you can't see except via online images. I know from my many visits to the past exhibitions what a difference seeing a portrait in person is - compared to seeing it online. I have to say:
For the record I've chosen two heads, one head and upper torso (including hands) and the other seven are all full figures. Like I've said many times before, the good portrait painters are the ones who can tackle the whole body and not just the head.

NEXT BP Post: I'll be commenting more on the statistics from the exhibition in one more post - the analysis always makes for interesting reading.

1. Marriage by Jennifer McRae

Marriage by Jennifer McRae
The double portrait is of the artist and her husband, David, with the studio forming a third presence. The work required planning for the sittings to coincide with David’s own work schedule, but takes inspiration from Old Master artist self-portraits such as Diego Velázquez’s appearance in Las Meninas.
My favourite. I love Jennifer McRae's unique and impactful style of painting and almost everything she does - including this portrait.

Her style is so distinctive that I can spot her portraits from a very long way across the other side of a gallery.  Her ability to make oil look like watercolour (her other main medium) is amazing! I also like her warping of perspective to get everything in that she wants to include and her meticulous attention to the real portrait - of her paints!

About Jennifer McRae

  • Education: BA (Hons) degree in fine art painting from Grays School of Art, Aberdeen.
  • Exhibitions: Her work has been seen in solo exhibitions in the USA and UK and on numerous occasions in the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition, and the Worshipful Society of Painter-Stainers exhibition winning the gold medal in 2019. Her work was previously included in the BP Portrait Award in 2009 and 2011, winning the Travel Award in 1999. Her portraits of Michael Frayn, Thelma Holt, Leonard Manasseh and Baroness Rebuck are in the Collection of the National Portrait Gallery. 
  • website: http://www.jennifermcrae.co.uk/

2. Kitty, the Teenage Baker by Mark Draisey

Kitty, the Teenage Baker by Mark Draisey
© Mark Draisey
My second favourite painting. I really liked this one because of the total believability of the individual and the beautiful colours and great textures. It just felt fresh and different.

The portrait is of the artist’s acquaintance, Kitty.
He says: ‘I first became aware of her in 2019 when, at the age of fourteen, she opened a pop-up bakery selling her home baked sourdough loaves and buns. Working with her father, they managed to raise the money to open a shop in South Oxfordshire through crowd funding, and every day they’re open, the stock completely sells out.’

About Mark Draisey

Mark Draisey worked as a professional cartoonist, caricaturist and illustrator for over 30 years - including designing puppet heads for Spitting Image. Currently works as a freelance illustrator for media companies and as a portrait painter.

Education: BA (Hons) degree in illustration at Brighton Polytechnic
Exhibitions: His work has been seen in the annual exhibitions of the Royal Society of Portrait Painters and the Royal Institute of Oil Painters. He was elected a member of the Oxford Art Society in 2019.
Website: http://www.markdraisey.com/

3. Manko by Antony Williams

Manko by Antony Williams© Antony Williams

My choice of this portrait is for two reasons
  • I always like to support all those who choose to paint in other than oil and acrylic - and I so wish this competition would open up to other media for portraits! I really love egg tempera in the hands of an expert!
  • It's amazing how people connect their own stories to portraits!
I liked the composition of this portrait - particularly the positioning of the arms. This might be because I've just been diagnosed with severe and marked osteoarthritis of my left shoulder, have lost most of the cartilage, can hardly move it and am in a lot of pain as a result - and may well need a shoulder replacement! The angle of that left arm is something which is now a distant memory.

About Antony Williams

Antony Williams RP PS NEAC is a very accomplished professional painter in egg tempera who is both very experienced and well regarded. He has won some big prizes in the portrait world. For me he has now taken the place formerly occupied by Benjamin Sullivan as being a BP Portrait regular who has never won.

4. I do, I undo, I redo (Nicola Hicks) by Jamie Routley

'I do, I undo, I redo' Nicola Hicks MBE by Jamie Routley
© Jamie Routley
The portrait is of the artist’s friend, the sculptor Nicola Hicks. The sitings took place in both Routley and Hicks’s studios with Hicks in her working clothes. The title is a reference to the work of the French sculptor, Louise Bourgeois, but is equally applicable to Hicks’s own practice.
I admire anybody who takes on a triptych - but when they do a big one and it's really good they very much deserve recognition. I've seen portraits by Jamie Routley before in NPG - and they are always impressive.

About Jamie Routley

A Welsh professional portrait painter who lives and works in London and is available for Commissions.
  • Education: BA (Hons) degree in illustration from Swindon College followed by four years’ study at the Charles H. Cecil Studios, Florence. 
  • Exhibitions: annual exhibitions of the Royal Society of Portrait Painters (2011, 2012, 2013, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020) winning the De Lazlo Foundation Award in 2017, the Columbia Threadneedle Prize and the Ruth Borchard Self-portrait Prize (2019). He was previously included in the BP Portrait Award in 2012, winning the Young Artist Prize 2012, and 2013.
  • website: https://www.jamieroutley.com/

5. Mid-shift by Thomas Leveritt

Mid-shift by Thomas Leveritt
© Thomas Leveritt
The portrait is of the artist’s friend Emily, a midwife at James Paget University Hospital, and her colleague, Funmi. At the time of painting, during winter 2019-20, the artist wanted to capture the effect of stress on individual health workers that was routine for a hospital within the National Health Service. Since the global Covid-19 pandemic, that pressure has increased exponentially.
This particular painting kept drawing my eye - probably because both models are looking straight out of the painting directly at the viewer - it's a very effective technique.

In the current context it's difficult not to be impressed by this double portrait of two medics painted mid-shift. I'm also a big supporter of anybody who has the guts to take on the full figure and/or paint one or more (torso+).  I rather like the way he leaves bits of the portrait unfinished (almost "missing in action").

About Thomas Leveritt

Looking at his website (and I recommend you do too), he obviously references photos a lot for his portraits but manages to be very effective at capturing facial expressions and mood. He certainly likes quirky compositions of the "not stuffed shirt"variety.

Previously selected for the BP Portrait Award BP Award (1999, 2000, 2007), Leveritt was raised in Texas, sent to boarding school in England and is now based in Suffolk, England.
  • Education: double first in history at Cambridge. Army Scholarship into the 5th Royal Inniskilling Dragoon Guards and a Queen Mother Bar Scholarship to Middle Temple.
  • Exhibitions: Leveritt’s paintings have been seen in exhibitions including those of the Royal Society of Portrait Painters, winning the Carroll Medal in 2000 and was previously selected for the BP Portrait Award in 1999, 2000, 2007.
  • website: https://leveritt.com/portraits

6. Self and Finn by Francis Mosley

Self and Finn by Francis Mosley

The self-portrait shows both the artist and his dog .
When planning the work, Mosley was inspired by the portraits of Diego Velázquez, showing Spanish royalty and the aristocracy, dressed for hunting in the landscapes of their estates. Mosley says: ‘I thought that it would be interesting to see how such an ennobling portrayal would look today. I had the noble dog, a deerhound lurcher, adapted the noble pose with a stick and the grand estate was my small garden in Bath.’

I totally got the Velaquez influence and love contemporary paintings which riff on the style of famous artists and well known paintings.  Both man and dog have the slightly elongated style favoured by Velaquez to make his subjects look a tad more impressive. I love the fact that the terraced houses 'mimic' grand houses in the past - if looked at from a distance. Plus the fact that although not outrageously large, Mosley did not duck the opportunity to produce a large painting.

About Francis Mosley

Francis Mosley is a London-based illustrator who has been commissioned to produce illustrations for 38 books plus magazines and newspapers.
  • Education: BSc in biology University of Sussex; studied illustration at Brighton Art College.
  • Exhibitions: His work has been seen in exhibitions in Bath including as part of the Bath open studios festival.
  • Website: http://www.francismosley.com/

7. Alexander Nilere, Kilburn by Peter James Field

Alexander Nilere, Kilburn by Peter James Field
© Peter James Field
The portrait is of Alex, whom the artist met at a wedding some ten years ago. Alex had been a pop singer in a successful band and made his own colourful and dandyish suits. However, Field was struck by his generosity and ego-free personality. The sittings took place at Alex’s fat, they quickly agreed on a natural pose with the addition of the fower to balance the composition.
This portrait appears very precise but is in fact very stylised in terms of how the face and akin are painted. I liked the fact it was a whole figure where the figure is very relaxed and grounded. Despite the weird suit and odd flowers it actually seems very real.

About Peter James Field

Peter James Field works as an illustrator and has several very prestigious clients. He also paints portraits.
  • Education: BA (Hons) degree in world art history and anthropology at UEA Norwich and a BA (Hons) degree in illustration at the University of Brighton. He specialized in Japanese culture, and taught for three years at state schools in the mountains of rural Japan.
  • Exhibitions: His work has been seen in group and solo exhibitions in London, Brighton and Edinburgh. including the Royal Society of Portrait Painters (2019). He also featured on Sky Portrait Artist of the Year (2020). Previously selected for inclusion in the BP Portrait Award in 2018.
  • Website: http://peterjamesfield.com/

8. Girl at a Table (Lucy) by Simon Thomas Braiden

Girl at a Table (Lucy) by Simon Thomas Braiden
© Simon Thomas Braiden
The portrait is of Lucy, whom Braiden met through a mutual friend.
She agreed to sit for her portrait and the sitings took place at the artist’s studio. He says: ‘Lucy arrived wearing a beautifully patterned summer dress that complimented the Prussian blue walls of the room.’
This portrait is small but packed full of content and some very curious perspective lines. It reminds me a little of Stuart Pearson Wright's portrait of JK Rowling in the NPG Collection.

There's something very odd about the angle of the sitter is we can see the top of the table as if it's flat - almost as if she was leaning backwards to get painted like this. I don't mind this. Sometimes perspective contortions make you look more closely.

About Simon Thomas Braiden

Simon Thomas Braiden was born in Manchester in 1971. He is a Member of Manchester Academy of Fine Art (MAFA) member 2011 – present

9. Paterson Joseph by Steve Caldwell

Paterson Joseph by Steve Caldwell
© Steve Caldwell

The portrait is of the artist’s friend, the actor Paterson Joseph who agreed to sit for his portrait.
Steve Caldwell says: ‘I aimed to produce a naturalistic, unaffected work using a high level of detail to describe both Paterson’s thoughtfulness and strong physical presence.’
I thought this was going to be another in the "big head" tradition - but it's not. It's small.  I admire people who can paint back skin well in terms of all the nuances of colour with the range of tones - without confusing the two.  This painting is also meticulously painted - down to the pores and every strand in the knitted collar - which you can't see in the above image - but which is very obvious on the NPG website if you click the image.

About Steve Caldwell

  • Education: foundation studies at Wirral Metropolitan College followed by an HND in medical illustration at North East Wales Institute. 
  • Exhibitions: Previously included in the BP Portrait Award in 2014 and 2015. His work has been seen in the annual exhibitions of the Society of Portrait Painters, the Royal Society of British Artists and the RBSA Portrait Prize Exhibition, being a triple prize winner in 2013. 
  • Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/SteveCaldwellPortraitPainter/

10. The Landscape Painter (Self-Portrait) by Barry Wilson

© Barry Wilson
Barry Wilson created his self-portrait in his studio in the Shropshire Hills.
Wilson wanted to capture how the grey northern light filtered down to define the face, while also exploring the foreshortening and distortions of the close oblique angle he had chosen.
I chose this one because it wasn't replying on colour to grab the attention - rather the reverse - the portrait is more notable for its absence of colour. That then means it must rely a lot on composition, design and tonal values for it to generate attention before you start to look at the quality of the painting.  I really liked the way he's got the eyes completely in line with the arc of the curve of the shoulders. That's what got my attention - and the fact it was so quiet. Sometimes the quiet ones are the ones you have to watch.....

About Barry Wilson

Lives in Shropshire and mainly paints landscapes
  • Education: studied at Stafford College of Art and Gloucestershire College of Art, Cheltenham. 
  • Exhibitions: group exhibitions at the Royal Academy of Arts and Manchester Academy of Art.  Previously selected for the BP Portrait Award in 1984 and 1992.
  • Website: http://www.bwilsonart.uk/


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BELOW are links to previous posts about the BP Portrait Award
- AND I've been writing about it since 2007!
Past prizewinners read my posts before they entered!

My Blog Posts about Previous BP Portrait Exhibitions

The exhibition review blog posts below contains lots of views of the exhibition in the galleries where they were held plus images of portraits (and the artist who had painted them) in the exhibitions.

BP Portrait Award 2020

BP Portrait Award 2019

BP Portrait Award 2018

BP Portrait Award 2017


BP Portrait Award 2016

BP Portrait Award 2015

BP Portrait Award 2014

BP Portrait Award 2013

BP Portrait Award 2012

BP Portrait Award 2011

BP Portrait Award 2010

BP Portrait Award 2009

BP Portrait Award 2008

BP Portrait Award 2007

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