Thursday, November 18, 2021

Review: Episode 6 of Portrait Artist of the Year 2021 ( Series 8 )

This is a review of Episode 6 of Series 8 of Portrait Artist of the Year - which is being repeated tonight at 7pm on the Sky Arts channel.

For more reviews of previous episodes see the listing at the end of this blog post.

The PAOTY Pod at the Battersea Arts Centre where every episode is filmed


Four professional artists included
  • Gabriella Cohen [LinkedIn] - from Staines, Middlesex.  Digital Content Creator/ Fine Artist who graduated with a first class degree in Fine Art from Bournemouth - who enjoys creating characters in her work.  Submitted a self-portrait with a futuristic quality - and aimed for a slightly unusual edge to her portrait.
  • Lee Kay-Barry [Facebook | Instagram] - an Artist, Digital Content Creator and Social Media Manager. Born in London in 1995 and studied a Fine Art degree at University of Leeds. Favours a bold, colourful and abstracted approach to portraiture
  • Lynn Kennedy [Facebook | Instagram] - graduated from Dun Laoghaire College of art and design in 1993. Since then has worked in several creative arts, including design, illustration and photography. Lynn now works primarily in oils, and much of her work is commissioned for private collections. The programme makers got rather carried away! She didn't win the Ruth Borchard Prize but rather had a painting in the 2019 exhibition.
  • Phyllis Dupuy [Instagram] - grew up in Montreal, graduated from McGill University and went on to teach art in northern Ontario. Moved to the UK in 1979 to study ceramics and has exhibited her ceramic work for 25 years. Studied oil painting and portraiture at Heatherley's School of Art in Chelsea. Her portrait commissions have includes Louis de Bernieres, the Novelist. Also painted #portraitsfornhsheroes

The five amateur artists are:
  • Amy Coleman - From Ireland, age 13 she is the youngest contestant in this series. Painted her first self-portrait for the submission. The heat was the first time she has ever painted anybody from life.
  • Alex Cooper [Facebook | Instagram] - former picture framer who lives in the Welland Valley on the borders of Leicestershire, Rutland and Northamptonshire. Took part in Portraits of NHS Heroes in 2020 and won the Clare Balding week in Sky Arts Portrait of the Week. Plus practiced hard for this Heat by painting three portraits a week.
  • Jana Forrester [Facebook | Instagram] - a medical physic student at UCL. 
  • Charlie Hardcastle [Instagram] - graduated in Painting from Edinburgh College of Art in 2020.  Likes to focus on getting the drawing right. Focuses on painting the features and skin and not so much the hair
  • Xinchu Zhang [Instagram) - Born and grew up in China. No lives in Brighton where he works for the Pensions Regulator.
You can also look at their profiles on Sky Arts - but the above listing below is about as comprehensive as I can make it - once I'd got the correct spellings of two of the names!


We actually got a clear view of the self portrait wall this week!


  • Landscape format x 1
  • Portrait format x 5
  • Square(ish) x 2


  • Large x 1
  • Medium x 3
  • Small x 4
  • Tiny x 1


  • full size or most of body (including hand) x 0
  • Upper torso + hand(s) x 3
  • upper torso (no hands) x 1
  • head and shoulders x 5
  • head x 0


The three sitters were:
  • Maggie Aderin-Pocock - a British space scientist and science educator. 
  • David Olusoga - a British historian, writer, broadcaster, presenter and film-maker. He is Professor of Public History at the University of Manchester and has also presented historical documentaries for the BBC.
  • Sergei Polunin - a Ukrainian-born ballet dancer, actor and model.  This is an 'interesting' article about the Self-destructive dance superstar

THEMES in Episode 6

This is a discussion of some of the themes I thought came up in this episode. Most are perennial across episodes and series.

The best of diverse approaches OR Are you different enough as a portrait painter?

Having a distinct style helps if you want to grab the Judges' attention (a comment in the heat)
This heat illustrated something which I think all those applying for a place in the next series should be aware of.  

The Judges:
  • do like people who don't paint / make art like everybody else i.e. you are more likely to get noticed if your work does not look like anybody else's OR a school of painting
  • tend to take only one of a particular kind of 'standard portrait painting' through to the shortlisting i.e. if they get two or three people painting in more or less the same way OR with more or less the same end result - they only ever seem to take one of them.
In other words they want to see the best of diverse approaches.

Listen carefully to the deliberations in this episode and you can hear them deliberating about similar portraits and opting for just one of them

Portraits which are quiet or noisy or troublesome

So we agree it's a good thing to stand out and get noticed - or is it?

Portraits can get noticed for different reasons.

Obviously an artist frequently hopes that their portrait gets recognised for the display of good drawing, good likeness and painting skills

However portraits also get highlighted if
  • they look quiet compared to others
  • they are 'too noisy' in terms of the impact of colour on the viewers eyes or lines which take eyes every which way
  • you keep noticing too much is wrong with the portrait
  • they can also be troublesome - because you stare at them trying to work out what it is that means that the likeness has been lost; or (my favourite) the painting ' hurts my eyes' - that undefinable something which means that the painting is visually disruptive - which is not usual in portraiture.

Seeing colours differently

There was quite a lot of comment about how artists use colour - and find unusual colours within the skin and the hair. 

My feeling is if you just paint the local hue - and not the spectrum of colours that can be seen within a surface you won't get very far....

When a background can undermine everything

I was quite confident that Lynn Kennedy probably had a very good chance of getting shortlisted on the strength of the scope, size and quality of her self-portrait. Somehow the painting in the heat didn't quite measure up - although, fair play, she attempted more than most did and included her sitter's hands.

Then, right at the last minute she added a blue background - which not only clashed horribly with Maggie's dress, it was the wrong blue in terms of the blue background in the pod and it was fairly scrappy in terms of sketchiness and not going to the edges. Plus it was very flat and unmodulated through the use of other colours

I forget whether it was Kate or Kathleen who words to the effect this was the point at which that portrait dropped out of the running.

Another painter painted a very flat yellow ochre background derived from a comment from the sitter about a colour he nearly dressed in.  She described it as a 'safety blanket' so she had a finished background so the final painting looked finished.  I can understand that sentiment. HOWEVER, she then found that it was a major challenge in terms of working with the skin of her sitter. I don;t think it helped her.


Sitters choose a portrait

This is when the Sitters have to choose which of the self portraits they want to keep
  • either because they really like it
  • or they'd prefer to make sure they can keep it out of circulation. I don't think the latter happened this week but I've been certain that's what has happened on previous occasions.
The three sitters chose as follows
  • Maggie Aderin-Pocock chose the portrait by Phyllis Dupuy - she loved the flow of the hair and the fact it made her look younger
  • David Olusoga chose Charlie Hardcastle - it was a face he recognised
  • Sergei Polunin chose Lee Kay-Berry
The shortlisting lineup

Judges choose a shortlist

The three artists the Judges chose were:
  • Xinchu Zhang
  • Gabriella Cohen
  • Charlie Hardcastle
What they liked about their shortlisted artists is summarised below

self portrait and heat portrait by Xinchu Zhang

Xinchu has 
  • a beautifully painted character study
  • got a good likeness and has the head properly sat on the shoulders
  • a great sense of a living breathing person
I liked his self-portrait better than his heat portrait - but did like the way he painted a lot.

self portrait and heat portrait by Gabriella Cohen

Gabriela has  
  • a painting style is very distinctive - producing a very bold self-portrait
  • colours are stunning - creating a vintage / alien perspective and a quite magical work. She likes being mysterious - to capture the personality.
  • found a happy medium between doing something which interested her and that is flattering for the sitter
  • the ability to use technology in a creative capacity 
The issue for me going forward is whether or not she can do hands.

self portrait and heat portrait by Charlie Hardcastle

Charlie creates portraits which have 
  • great emotional content with very little there in his submission - which he repeated in his his heat portrait
  • has done something which looks very refined and delicate - and almost looks like a fresco, it's so chalky and has a subtle emotional component
  • David went for the painting because it evoked an emotion which he recognised
I thought his double self-portrait was very clever - and had marked psychological undertones.

and get an email to your inbox every time I publish

Winner of Episode 6

waiting to hear who has won

The winner of the heat filmed for Episode 6 was Gabriella Cohen 

The rationale was as follows - according to Kate Bryan
"We're looking for someone to take the conversation forward with portraiture. Gabriella's really inventive, she's really playful - and then we're just thinking about what's coming next in the semi-final 

Gabriella Cohen won Episode 6

Episode 7 

The sitters in the next episode on Wednesday 24th November 2021 are: naturalist and conservationist Chris Packham; dance teacher and original Strictly Judge Arlene Phillips and Ali Jawa (whoever that is!). 

I'm struggling with sitters this year - I'm feeling pleased I knew two of three for the next episode!

No comments:

Post a Comment

COMMENTS HAVE BEEN CLOSED AGAIN because of too much spam.
My blog posts are always posted to my Making A Mark Facebook Page and you can comment there if you wish.

Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.