Wednesday, December 23, 2020

PAOTY Commission: Curtis Holder draws Carlos Acosta

I thought the Commission programme at the end of the latest series of Portrait Artist of the Year (Episode 11) was one of the most interesting I've ever seen in terms of:
  • watching the process used by the artist in developing material to work from for the Commission
  • the level of engagement between the subject (the dancer Carlos Acosta) and the artist (Curtis Holder)  and 
  • the developing understanding by both of how the other creates.
  • the nature of the artwork generated by the process
It was a delight to watch - and it led to a very sensitive drawing of the celebrated ballet dancer. 

I thought personally thought that it was a brilliant drawing - and I say that speaking as somebody who has used coloured pencils a lot for artwork and also overlaid drawings from life to suggest movement in the past - but my efforts are nowhere near as impressive as those of Curtis Holder! 

Carlos Acosta by Curtis Holder
Carlos Acosta by Curtis Holder
(courtesy of Curis Holder)

Born in Havana, the youngest of 11 children in an impoverished family, Acosta went on to train at the National Ballet School of Cuba, winning the prestigious Prix de Lausanne at the age of 16, before enjoying a celebrated 30-year career in dance with many of the world’s leading ballet companies. He was a Principal with the Royal Ballet for 17 years and danced all the major classical, and many contemporary roles. He is considered by many to be the greatest male dancer of his generation and, indeed, one of the greatest dancers of all time.
The Commission was for the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery - because Carlos Acosta took up his new appointment as Director of Birmingham Royal Ballet in January 2020.

Kathleen Soriano, one of the Judges, explains below that the briar rose references (flowers, petals, leaves and winding stems) in the lower half of the drawing relate to:
  • Pre Raphaelite drawings in BMAG’s collection 
  • Carlos’s performance in Sleeping Beauty.
Birmingham Museums Trust holds the most important collection of Pre-Raphaelite art anywhere in the world. Birmingham's collection has over 3000 paintings, drawings, prints and examples of decorative art and design. The Pre Raphaelites | Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery

Of course the prize for winning the series is a £10,000 Commission - see Curtis Holder wins Portrait Artist of the Year (Series 7 Autumn 2020) - but to my mind the real prize, if that commission is successful, is the profile it gives the artist in the world of portrait commissions and the scope to do many, many more in future.

I recommend anybody who has not yet seen the programme to try and view it as it is highly educational in terms of Curtis's particular approach to developing the commission. This focuses very much on 

  • a psychological understanding of the subject 
  • the exploration of different ways of portraying him.
  • rapid drawings which are just amazing to watch
  • longer drawings - also from life - which were excellent
  • exploration of movement - essential to any portrait of a dancer - and also of associated motifs which might be appropriate.
  • finally the process back home in his studio of using all the material collected and selecting and editing to create a coherent whole.
Curtis is also very obviously somebody who is very attuned to other creative people - which was very evident during the series in the way in which he would get down on the floor near the sitter and talk to them as he worked his way through his preliminary drawings.

Below are some of the comments I received when I posted a link to the above instagram post on my Facebook Page

What a fantastic programme it was of Curtis’s journey carrying out his winning commission! Felcity Flutter

Was fascinating seeing the sketches and interactions that led up to this amazing drawing! Rona McLean

There are more on Kathleen Soriano's Instagram post which are equally complimentary about the process, programme and commission. One commented 

What a beautiful connection between artist and sitter. Love the fact that drawing skills aren’t overshadowed and are recognised as the fundamental basis for all painting

I also received a delightful email from Curtis after I wrote to him - plus a copy of the image at the top of this post.  It included a comment about the whole process.

The whole Portrait Artist of the Year experience has been a bit of a whirlwind – but a very welcome one. I still can’t quite believe it’s all happened, but I’m trying my best to go with the flow. Drawing Carlos was a once in lifetime opportunity – he was such a lovely, thoughtful guy and of course an amazing artist. I think I was very lucky that he was the subject of the commission.

 I also now have an endorsement! :) 

"I regularly read and enjoy your blog, including your analysis of this series which has been so insightful and draws a helpful picture for your readers".
Plus I've put him in contact with Derwent (he was using Derwent Procolour Pencils in the Final - which are excellent pencils that I also like a lot), so hopefully we may continue to see some more of him and his coloured pencil drawings.

Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery

I was also blown away by the quality of the collection of artwork to be found at the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery which includes some very impressive works. 

It's definitely going on my "must visit" list of art galleries for after the ankle has been fused and I can do longer trips again.

Interested in participating next year?

This is my post about the Call for Entries: Portrait Artist of the Year 2020 (Season 8)
  • Entries close at at midday on Friday 29th January 2021.
  • So now you know how to spend your spare time at Christmas....... 
  • READ ON if interested.....

More Learning Points re. Sky Arts Portrait Artist of the Year

  • you have VIEWED at least some of the programmes from the current and previous series. (I'm amazed that people enter never having seen any of the programmes!!) 
  • READ at least some of my reviews of the episodes - in which I make observations about themes in the episodes and learning points for all those wanting to participate in future.  I try to make them different in every review - but some points are perennial - such as the HUGE importance of the commission and how to get it noticed!
BELOW are my blog posts from four PAOTY series in 2018-2020 which contains lots of learning points about painting in this competition for those aspiring to compete in future series of PAOTY.

Previous Years

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

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