Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Review: Episode 1 of Portrait Artist of the Year Series 7 (Autumn 2020)

Series 7 of Sky Arts Portrait Artist of the Year (Autumn 2020) started two weeks ago - but for various reasons - not least that these are not fast posts to review, construct and write - I've not had time until now to write my review. 

I apologise for not saying anything. I did eventually realize that there were lots of people who were pulling up my reviews of the first two episodes of the last series because it had 2020 tacked on the end of the title.

Of course in 2020 we're having Portrait Artist of the Year x 2! 
  • One filmed in 2019 which was broadcast between January and March 2020.
  • One filmed at some point in the spring/summer of 2020 which is being broadcast now. This one is called SERIES 7.
  • today is my review of Episode 1 OF Series 7.
  • tomorrow is Episode 2 - EXCEPT I've got to go and have scan at the hospital and 
  • Thursday will be Episode 3 - and then I'll be all caught up - EXCEPT that I've FINALLY got an outpatient appointment on Thursday to see a doctor at the hospital about my very dodgy ankle with the floating broken bone shards.
So that's the plan and I'm hoping to keep to it!

Series 7

I did wonder for a very long time whether they'd go ahead with Series 7 - because filming was due to happen during lockdown and I couldn't work out 
  • how artists would get to the Battersea Arts Centre or 
  • how they would manage given the extremely large number of people in the crew - never mind anybody else who is participating.
I'd love to hear from the artists whether they stuck to the original planned dates for filming - and what the experience was like.

(I found the answer while doing the artists's bios - they filmed in July - so NOT in lockdown!)

The interior of Battersea Arts Centre

What's very different this year is that obviously:
  • there was no audience
  • there was no Dame Joan Bakewell - who switched to hosting Portrait Artist of the Week instead!
  • everything happened at a suitable social distance
  • come the broadcast, everybody in the UK could view the programme because it had transferred to Freeview and hence was available to anybody with a digital TV.
I did wonder whether they had to change their plans for any of the sitters - in terms of whether people could be available or not. 

I also wonder what it would have been like if they'd filmed it now - with either people unable to travel and everybody else required to wear a mask in an indoor location with people outside your social bubble.

About Sky Arts Portrait Artist of the Year - Series 7 (Autumn 2020)

The Sky Arts Portrait Artist of the Year competition ranks alongside the other prestigious UK Art Competitions covered by this blog.

It has been running for some years and this is the seventh series
  • It has a major cash prize of £10,000 - a commission to paint the top ballet dancer and choreographer Carlos Acosta.
  • The judges include leading figures in the art world - who are the same as for previous series:
    • award-winning portrait painter Tai Shan Schierenberg
    • independent curator, art historian and arts broadcaster Kathleen Soriano (currently Chair of the Liverpool Biennial and was previously Director of Exhibitions at the Royal Academy of Arts and Head of Exhibitions & Collections at the National Portrait Gallery) and
    • British art historian, curator and arts broadcaster Kate Bryan (who is also currently Head of Collections for Soho House)
Judging one third of the portraits produced during Episode 1 Heat
  • There are three well known sitters for each heat. Sitters are young and older "celebrities" of varying degrees of recognition
  • The series is very popular with lots of aspiring portrait artists of various ages - not least because it offers the opportunity for an enhanced profile.
  • It also attracts artists who already have an established careers as artists and in some cases are well known and collectable portrait artists
  • It's commissioned by Sky Arts and broadcast on digital television and via the NOW TV app.
This is the Facebook Page. You can also see artist profiles and speeded up videos of the portrait painting on this page https://www.skyartsartistoftheyear.tv/portrait-profiles/. It's very nice to see all the artists getting named credits and links to their relevant social media sites - even if you have to know this link exists - because it's right at the bottom of the page about this programme(Maybe Sky Arts could fix this?)

Episode 1: The Artists, Self-portraits and Sitters

This is the link to Episode 1 on Sky Arts

This link provides you with the Artists Profiles and the speeded up version of their painting
    After the painting and during the Judging

    The professional artists

    There were five professional artists
    • Stewart Beckett ( Website | Facebook | Instagram | Twitter) a Professional Painter & Tutor living and working in Hampshire, with a studio in Southampton. Studied at the London Atelier of Representational Art. Exhibited in the Annual Exhibition of the Royal Society of Portrait Artists in 2019
    • Jack Ford ( Website | Instagram ) - a traditionally trained full time artist (Arts University Bournemouth / Charles H Cecil in Venice). Taught with Cecil before returning back to London in 2017. He routinely paints portraits from life and continues to teach at Charles H Cecil studios in Florence, Italy and at Atelier Tremlett in Lewes as well as in his studio in London. He has an interesting habit of parking his brushes in his hair and beard.
    • Tom Scotcher ( WebsiteInstagram ) - Part of the Drawing Year at the Royal Drawing School in 2017. His self portrait is on the Home Page of his website where you can see it more clearly than on the television. Clearly an artist who likes using lots of different media.
    • Zhouzi Zhang ( Instagram)
    • Natalia Zozulya ( Website | Instagram ) a Ukrainian painter who is resident in both Kyiv and London (Kingston). She trained at the Ukrainian National Academy of Fine Arts and Architecture where she was subsequently a Senior Lecturer and is currently Associate Professor in Painting.

    The amateur artists

    There were four amateur artists who were:
    • Kayoon Anderson ( Website | Facebook | Instagram) - studied Architecture at the University of Cambridge, then lived in Siena for six months to draw and paint. She is now working in London as a portrait painter whilst studying portraiture at the Heatherley School of Fine Art. 
    • James Hoy Website | Instagram ) Part time painter
    • Checka Levi-Morenos ( Website | Instagram ) - The Judges really liked her self-portrait - which comes with an explanation of what it's about. A 3D designer who is currently located in a residency in the Bell Tower Studio of Chiesa San Cosmo, a 15th Century Church in Venice! (November 2020 - May 2021). She also participated in Mall Galleries In The Studio 2019
    • Georgia Mallin Website | Instagram | Twitter) - Figurative artist and museum manager. Portraiture Diploma Heatherley School Of Art 2017-19. She was awarded the Daphne Todd Portrait Prize in 2018. Newman Young Artist Scholarship 2019-20 at the Essential School of Painting. 

    The self-portraits

    If you listen to the Judges comments carefully, it's very clear that they are impressed by those who have given some thought to the composition

    I often make the point that one should never ever underestimate the self-portrait as that can be the painting which gets you to the top three and maybe win the heat.

    I'm also very much in favour of artists who demonstrate they can paint more than a head. Inevitably in the heat, it's very likely that you focus on just the head - so the self portrait becomes an opportunity to demonstrate you have more strings to your bow - and you use them well.

    The Self Portraits - demonstrating the very different size of paintings

    This is a summary of the format, content and size of the self portraits
    • FORMAT
      • Landscape format x 1
      • Portrait format x 8
      • Tondo x 0
    • CONTENT OF SELF-PORTRAIT - for me the only ones in the running for making a difference as to outcome are those that include hands and/or are full size.
      • full size x 2
      • torso including head and hand(s) x 2
      • head and shoulders x 3
      • head x 2
    • SIZE
      • Large x 1
      • Medium x 4
      • Small x 4
    For me, I think any painter aspiriting to participate in this programme, there are two major considerations when it comes to the size of the self-portrait
    • you have to bring it to the Heat - so if you are travelling a long way on public transport you're going to want it to be portable (and dry!) - which is why I guess those who don't live near London tend to paint smaller
    • I always think that those with larger paintings always knew they'd drive to the Heat!
    We also hear in the programme how long the artist spent spent on submission - in terms of hours or days.

    The Sitters

    Artists participating in the heat are asked to produce an artwork depicting a Portrait of a Sitter allocated by the Producer - BUT you don't get to choose
    • who you paint
    • where you put your easel 
    Watch the programmes to see how far the easel is from the sitter. The reason people use iPads is because they frequently can't see the sitter's face properly!

    The Sitters are 
    • Ncuti Gatwa - graduated from the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland in Glasgow with a BA in Acting in 2013. BAFTA nominated for playing Eric in "Sex Education" (the Netflix comedy-drama series)
    • Anne Tennant, Baroness Glenconner -  ‘debutante of the year’ by Tatler in 1950, she was a maid of honour and carried the Queen's train at the Coronation of Elizabeth II in 1953 and lady in waiting to Princess Margaret. She published a memoir Lady in Waiting: My Extraordinary Life in the Shadow of the Crown, on 2019
    • Fay Ripley - an English actress, presenter, recipe author and narrator. Graduate of the Guildhall School of Music and Drama (1990) and well known for starring in Cold Feet.

    Episode 1: Themes

    For those new to my reviews, I try to work out a few themes to comment on for every programme, in terms of things to think about before, during and after the programme!

    Spending time at the beginning

    I like watching how people start off - and then matching that up to how their portrait progresses across the 4 hours.

    Not spending enough time at the beginning on drawing and composition can generate the artistic version of Buyer's remorse - wishing you'd done your homework better! It's more likely among those who have painted rather fewer portraits than others - but more experienced painters are by no means exempt from this problem.

    It is of course greatly exacerbated by being filmed and knowing everything you do is going to be on television!

    A Beginner's Error

    Might as well starts with the basics - and one of which got commented on. One of the things every portrait artist needs to know is
    • the relative size and proportions of the FACE to the HEAD - and
    • the amount of head covered by hair - as opposed to the face
    The reality is that everybody focuses on the facial features (eyes, nose, mouth) but if they get the overall proportions and ratios wrong, then it won't "look right"

    As Tai identified, at least one of the paintings didn't get the proportion of hair to face right i.e, too much face and not enough head. The reason this happened I think is because the iPad photo which was used to aid the painting cropped the back of the head off. Which makes a good argument for:
    • don't make it up!
    • take several photos - some of the whole person,  the whole head and potential crops.

    Painting the Face

    It's interesting to see the different approaches to 'painting the face'. Some start with it, others leave it to last and dance around their support painting anything but the face - sometimes for what seems like far too long.

    There's no one right way per se however there are quite a few ways in which artists can handicap themselves and their paintings.

    For my part I'd say that every artist participating in the competition almost needs to have a routine worked out for painting the face - in relation to:
    • what makes them feel comfortable - and grounded (for me, I always start dead centre and work out! Working out where is the centre is the first thing I do - because I'm so very often surprised by where it actually is!)
    • how much time they need for:
      • working out skin tones
      • painting the features - and repainting if necessary
    • how they prefer to deal with backgrounds i.e. they're not being judged on their background and time spent on this as opposed to face can backfire - and often has. I'm pleased when I see artists:
      • working out a colour for the background which will complement the sitter and balance the painting
      • getting something down in terms of background - because so very often leaving the background to last means we have an artist who is going to be very surprised when they see how much it impacts on that the face looks like. Often there's very little time to make adjustments which rescue the portrait.

    Light on Skin Tones

    Tai in particular is fond of artists who think about the colour of the light - inside and from outside - and how that impacts on the colour of the skin tones.

    In the Battersea Arts Centre, they're under blinding lights for filming so the typoe of skiin tones you get under natural light go "out the window" which presents an opportunity to demonstrate what you can do in that respect with your self-portrait - as Georgia did.

    Dealing with the Background

    Thank goodness that the backgrounds are much less invasive this year on the basis of what we've seen so far.

    This episode backgrounds were based on typical backgrounds seen in other portraiture. They actually provided some very strong colours and to my mind only the deep Holbein green was sympathetic to skin colour - so those painting against the very bright red and deep blue were rather up against it!

    Decision Time

    Sitters choose portrait to take home

    Ncuti Gatwa chose Kayoon Anderson (the one on the right)

    Portraits of Ncuti Gatwa

    Anne Tennant, Baroness Glenconner chose Tom Scotcher (the one in the middle)

    Portraits of Anne Tennant

    Fay Ripley chose James Hoy (the one in the middle)
    Portraits of Fay Ripley

    Judges choose shortlist of three

    The Lineup for the Shortlist of Three
    Judges liked
    • good compositions
    • great handling of colour
    • making sense of the person and the pose
    • believable skin tones
    • believable sense of the individual
    • beautiful painting
    Judges were less enthusiastic about
    • parts of the body out of proportion 
    • interplay of colours getting lost
    • hair which doesn't work
    • the missing likeness
    • the missing spirit

    The Shortlist

    • Jack Ford
    • Tom Scotcher
    • Kayoon Anderson

    Episode 1 Winner

    In deciding the winner the Judges take BOTH portraits into account. As I've always said, never ever underestimate the importance of the self portrait for 
    • getting selected 
    • getting shortlisted 
    • winning the Heat!
    First the lineup of the six paintings - can you tell who's won?

    The six paintings produced by the shortlisted artists

    Then the self portrait and the heat portrait for each shortlisted artist - but do relate these images to the one above which demonstrates the relative sizes of each

    Paintings by Jack Ford

    Note the inclusion of a hand - more than just a head. They liked the painting of the heat portrait but didn't think it got the likeness quite right.

    Paintings by Tom Scotcher

    Note a full size self-portrait - minus hands. The Judges were somewhat surprised the second portrait was by the same artist - and continuity between self-portrait and heat portrait has been consistently important in the past - in relation to predicting consistency in the future.

    Paintings by Kayoon Anderson

    They loved the way Kayoon handled the paint in both paintings and the colouration - and both paintings include hands. They also thought she was the most successful of the three in handling the very vibrant colours. She was definitely the person I expected to win from about halfway through the programme - in part because of the composition and crop she came up with but also because there was a clear consistency in the way she paints flesh - even if the skin colour is different.

    Then the line up of three waiting to hear the judgement.

    The shortlisted artists awaiting to hear who won

    followed by the Heat Winner - Kayoon Anderson with her heat portrait of Ncuti Gatwa. I was not in the least surprised she won. Indeed I'd have been very surprised if she hadn't won.

    The winner of Episode 1 - Kayoon Anderson with her portrait of Ncuti Gatwa

    More tomorrow about Episode 2 - and Episode 3 is broadcast at 8pm on Sky Arts.

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    The sitters in the next episode are: Sir Trevor McDonald, Mirren Mack and The Vivienne.

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