Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Review: Episode 5 of Portrait Artist of the Year Series 7 (Autumn 2020)

I'm still way behind on my reviews of  Portrait Artist of the Year (Series 7 Autumn 2020)  due to spending hours and hours online trying to work out how one copes with elevating a leg and getting about without putting my right foot on the ground at all for three months!  

So apologies for the continued distraction and delays.....

one of the sitters with three of the artists

Episode 5: The Artists, Self-portraits and Sitters

This is the the About the Artists page . Narrative profiles are based on their website bios.

This episode there were 6 professional artists and 3 amateur artists. 

The Professional Artists

  • Sam ClaydenInstagram ) - an artist and art teacher. Painted his submission in 90 minutes (and acknowledged he overworked his heat portrait).
  • Alvin 'Kofi' Ferris ( Website | Facebook | Instagram | Twitter ) - a second-generation West Indian who grew up in London. Born in south London in 1961, Alvin 'Kofi' (means 'born on a Friday') also spent some of his childhood years in Antigua. He studied graphic design at Richmond School of Art. He established a career in the UK art world as a fine artist in the 1990's and worked for a short time at the first Black-owned advertising agency in the UK. He has exhibited at solo and group shows in the UK, US and the Caribbean, and has received commissions for portraits, murals and sculptures. His creative perspective is very much African-centered.  Kofi also teaches master classes, mentors up-and-coming artists, and runs a drawing programme.
"we felt really welcomed by the Sky production team who made all the artists feel at ease." Kofi Ferris
  • Yasmin Gilani Website | Facebook | Instagram ) - a London and Cotswold based artist specialising in abstract impressionist art. After graduating from The Roal Academy of Dramatic Art with an MA in 2015, Yasmin went on to work for galleries and arts festivals in London. She had previously made it to being a reserve artist for Sky Portrait Artist of the Year in 2019. 
  • Michelle Goldman ( Website | Facebook | Instagram | Twitter ) - based in Westcliff-on-Sea where she teaches an art class. She also juggles the challenge of being a mother AND a professional artist
  • Nick Grove ( Website | Facebook | Instagram | Twitter ) - born in 1974 near Oundle and now lives in Stamford. An artist who predominantly paints portraits plus landscapes and cityscapes in oils, ‘en plein air’ (mainly of Norfolk and Suffolk Coasts, Cambridge, Oxford, and London) He completed a foundation course in art and design followed by a BA (hons) degree in fine art at Southampton University. He worked as a professional photographer for 15 years, specialising in weddings and won numerous national and international awards. Now focuses on his painting. Currently represented by the Peter Barker Fine Art Gallery in Uppingham.
  • Vicky Saumarez ( Website | Facebook | Instagram | Twitter ) - trained in the late 1980s at the Florentine realist drawing and painting academy of Studio Cecil Graves. Pre pandemic she organised and ran painting, drawing and portraiture classes in Hanwell, near Ealing, West London as well as weekly untaught drop-in life drawing session. She now runs online classes.

The Amateur Artists

    • Chris Longridge ( Website | Instagram ) Heat Winner and Semi Finalist in 2020 (first series filmed in 2019).  Based in Kent. He now works primarily in oils (for last 6 months) having previously used acrylics.  According to my profile of him last year he's Amateur because he's got "a proper job". Loved the bit during the episode where he confesses to being a TV journalist!! He's currently the Associate Editor of Digital Spy (and prior to that was a Senior Editor of Heat for six years).
    • Dilip Seshan ( Website | Instagram | Twitter ) Based in Caterham, Surrey and works in IT. As a portrait artist he considers himself an enthusiastic art hobbyist and not a professional.
    • Sarah Teare ( Website | Facebook | Instagram | Twitter ) - a London based portrait artist working predominantly in oils. This was her self-portrait. Always paints from photographs, measures on her tablet (rather than from life) and likes to start with the eyes.

    The Self Portraits

    The self portraits of participants in Episode 5

    This is a summary of the size, format and content of the self portraits in this heat
    • SIZE
      • Large x 2
      • Medium x 5
      • Small x 2
      • Very small x 0
    • FORMAT
      • Landscape format x 3
      • Portrait format x 3
      • Square format x 3
      • full size x 0
      • torso including head and hand(s) x 3 (including heat winner)
      • head + torso + hands with another person x 1 
      • head and shoulders x 4
      • head x 1

    The Sitters

    The sitters for Episode 5 were:
    • Robert Rinder - a British criminal barrister and television personality who appears in a British spin off of Judge Judy
    • Katie Piper - an English writer, activist, television presenter and model who is renowned for her work re. acid attacks and burn victims
    • Don Letts - a British film director / videographer, DJ and musician.
    I'm still trying to work out which artist gets which sitter - and if there is indeed any rationale at all.

    Episode 5: Themes

    Self Portraits: the picture of the artist as an artist

    One of the things I've been noticing this year is that I think there are more self-portraits of the artist as an artist - albeit people are having to come up with novel ways of attracting attention away from more conventional such paintings

    There were four such self-portraits in this heat - from Kofi, Nick, Dilip and Vicky.

    Self Portraits: different ways of introducing yourself 

    There was something of an interesting discussion about the different ways you can approach the challenge of producing a self-portrait
    • painting with a narrative - such as the one with the two children 
    • paintings with an overt cultural reference e.g. the Janus symbol
    • paintings which are loaded with historical / cultural references - to past masters in particular and/or specific paintings
    • paintings which just paint a head - but do it extremely well (i.e. this can be taken for granted - if you just paint a head, your painting better be EXCELLENT!)
    • portraits which involve interesting techniques - such as 
      • half the head disappearing into darkness
      • an apparently artificial style suggestive of maybe a different culture

    Building rapport with the sitter - generating a connection

    I don't know if anybody else has noticed, but it seems to me that when an artist appears to build a rapport with a sitter, it's often that artist whose painting gets chosen by the sitter.

    Just saying.....

    Outside portrait commissions, it's also worth noting that those most likely to be recommended for commissions are those who engage well with their sitters and 
    • create some sort of connection - maybe through talking
    • make them feel relaxed. 

    "Knowing when to stop is a big problem"

    I can't remember who said this now - but this is a perennial problems for all artists. This is particularly so for all those involved in a competition with a time limit where there seems to be some sort of feeling that one should use all the time available - rather than stopping when it feels finished.

    What I'd say is that people need to have painted enough from life that they know:

    • how much time they need to paint a sitter
    • how long it takes them to work out a composition
    • how long it takes them to get the basic shapes down
    • how long they need to get the key features right
    • what order to do things so as to 
    • what to paint when you're not sure whether to stop or not (the answer is "the background"! i.e. do not fiddle with the sitter when you're trying to work out whether or not it's finished)
    Going and standing several feet away and LOOKING and not allowing yourself to move in to make adjustments until you have spotted all aspects which may need a tweak is another good strategy.

    It's much easier knowing when to stop if you have minimal adjustments to make later on - because you got the groundwork in at the right time and made some good decisions.

    PS If you don't paint from life it's unlikely that you know the answers to some of these questions.

    Deciding how much of the background to include

    Seeing people painting backgrounds when they should be painting the sitter infuriates me - unless it happens towards the end!

    Working out what you are going to do about the background should form part of the checklist of questions you should ask yourself when working out the composition i.e.

    • work with the background that's there - or completely ignore it
    • use the colour of the background - or ignore it
    • paint on a coloured ground - or not
    The backgrounds add little to the sitters given 
    • they are interpretations of aspects of art history. 
    • They may clash horrendously with the colour of the sitters clothes. 
    • they say nothing about the sitter.
    To my mind there is no reason whatsoever to include the background as presented 
    • UNLESS IT ADDS VALUE to the sitter's portrait i.e. don't just paint it because it's there. 
    • ONLY paint the given background because it helps you create makes a better portrait and a better painting

    Will the painting that starts well get better or worse?

    This seems to be a perennial conundrum that Judges come up against in each heat - and actually is one which should be front of brain for most of the artists too i.e. is what they are doing to the portrait going to 
    • provide a sound basis for moving forward?
    • add value and improve the portrait?
    • risk jeopardising what they have achieved to date
    We certainly saw promising portraits lose their way in this episode.

    Always remember that your brush is an extension of your brain and things can change in a very few brushstrokes! 

    Decision Time

    Now for my commentary on what happened after the painting stopped.

    Sitters choose portrait to take home

    Robert Rinder chose Vicky's portrait - because of the overall composition

    Katie Piper chose the portrait by Chris Longridge - which her gut responded to when the three portraits were first revealed.

    Don Letts chose the portrait by Kofi Ferris (below)

    Judges choose shortlist of three

    The artists lined up to hear the outcome of the Judges deliberations

    The Judges chose a short list of three which were
    • Michelle Goldman
    • Kofi Ferris
    • Chris Longridge
    This included two portraits of Don Letts (who according to the Judges gave "good pose" and one painting of Katie Piper.

    The shortlist

    Shortlist - self portrait and heat portraits

    Paintings by Michelle Goldman

    I was slightly surprised by this decision but her self-portrait showed somebody who was clearly capable of going beyond the obvious - and she's also good at hands!

    Kathleen liked her use of blocks of colour and the use of the side eye

    Paintings by Chris Longridge

    I really disliked the background of Chris's portrait of Katie and that was down to some very distracting brushwork - but his self portrait was a tour de force in terms of composition, likeness and painting.

    Tai and Kathleen both thought he'd captured her personality.

    Paintings by Kofi Ferris

    Tai thought he was making some very sophisticated colour choices - which united the two paintings while making them distinct. 

    Kofi was my winner from very early on - round about the time he was putting the first marks on the support. He very clearly had a strong self-portrait and if he could produce a good heat portrait too he's definitely be sghortlisted - after which it would depend on how well the others painted.

    I don't think anybody did better at painting a portrait in the Heat. 

    The winner

    The winner was Kofi Ferris.  The Judges summed up their decision as follows
    The artist the Judges selected remained true to their distinctive style while creating a complex and powerful portrait.
    I've got him very much marked down as one to watch. I think he'll be a finalist - because he's clearly a very experienced painter and a cool guy and I think it very unlikely he will mess up in the semi final.

    The winner is Kofi Ferris!



    Sky Arts is now available on Freeview - but on demand is not.

    This is probably the most important post for all those who don't have Sky or access to Freeview or want to watch on demand - it's how I watch the competition "on demand" - except I now use a Now TV stick plugged into my television

    How to watch Sky Arts - Portrait Artist of the Year 2018 without subscribing to Sky

    I've just spotted that I didn't write up the Final - because of the surge in Pandemic changes I think. Must correct that!

    Plus my blog posts which highlighted 

    Learning Points re the 2019 competition

    Below - 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 2018 competition

    These are my reviews of the competition in 2018 highlighting learning points - as it was broadcast. More than one of those artists who participated in 2019 thanked me a lot for the commentary and advice - including some who went a long way!

    Previous years

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