Sunday, October 08, 2023

Review: Portrait Artist of the Decade

The first episode of Portrait Artist of the Year this year was devoted to the competition to find the Portrait Artist of the Decade - from the winners of the previous series.

The sitter for this momentous occasion was Dame Judi Dench - who promised to nod off in the afternoon but stayed bright and alert all day by the look of the programme.

Participants in Portrait Artist of the Decade

You can find out who took part and take a look at the portraits they produced - courtesy of their Instagram posts below.

Plus at the end I'll tell you 
  • who the sitter chose
  • who the independent judge chose 
Thanks also to Samira Addo who was the only person to post a group photo to their Instagram account!

Portrait Artists of the Year (2014-2022)

What I found particularly interesting about the show was how people had developed since they won - or continued in the same vein. 

It was also absolutely fascinating to see their portraits lined up next to one another.

The participating artists were :
  • Series 3 (2017) - Gareth Reid - Born in Belfast, Gareth studied at University of Ulster, Glasgow School of Art and Florence Academy of Art, and now lives and works in Glasgow. Has also had work included in BP Portrait Award Exhibitions. He also won the BP Travel Award in 2007 - see BP Travel Award: Gareth Reid and the Finnish winter bathers - which was an exhibit I really liked for the choice of subject and execution.  He now mainly paints (very slowly) portraits in oils - but chose to go back to charcoal for the four hour stint. He works slowly with the big decision being how to crop a photo and where to place the head on the support
"If you don't have structures and relationships correct, you're fighting a battle through the whole process"
  • Series 4 (2018) - Samira Addo a self-taught visual artist based in London, b. 1991 who focuses on portraiture. She doesn't seem to have done a huge amount since she won in 2018. See Review: The Final of Portrait Artist of the Year 2018. Samira was the winner who produced the most abstracted of portraits when she won - with a fragmentation approach - and continued in the same vein in this competition. She also gets excellent photos of people on these occasions.

  • Series 5 (2019) - Duncan Shoosmith - See Duncan Shoosmith is Portrait Artist of the Year 2019. He won in the first final I watched in person. He then told me afterwards he'd read my posts and tips and practiced hard as I'd suggested! Not a big self-publicist but he's painted a fair few portraits since he won! He seems to have won the "proper bloke" vote! He's stuck to his sculptured head and shoulders approach and says he's not into painting backgrounds.
Duncan's portrait is on the extreme left of this line-up.

  • Series 6 (Spring 2020) Christabel Blackburn - (for some reason I didn't write the post re the Final which I suspect was due to fact Covid was hitting hard when it was broadcast) Born London, 1986 and is based in London. Studied art at Newcastle, Charles Cecil Studios and LARA. I think she was one of the more impressive winners. This was her commission painting of Nile Rogers. I very much like the paintings she's been producing of people in spaces. Maybe more a figurative painter than a portrait artist?
She is a painter who conjures atmospheric scenes which focus on the interplay between people and spaces. Using a sensitively reduced visual language, Blackburn distils the modern world and our interaction with it into quiet, concentrated scenes.


  • Series 7 (Autumn 2020) - Curtis Holder - see Curtis Holder wins Portrait Artist of the Year (Series 7 Autumn 2020) born in Leicester in 1968), he is a London based artist who works primarily in graphite and coloured pencil to create large-scale portraits and figurative works on paper. He studied Graphic Design at Kingston University and completed postgraduate studies in Character Animation at Central Saint Martins, London. He is a member of Contemporary British Portrait Painters (CBPP) and an Associate Member of the Society of Graphic Fine Art (SGFA). He currently has a solo exhibition about "The Makers: Portraits from Backstage" 27 January - 04 November 2023 at the National Theatre, South Bank, London. He's also the winner I've heard more about since he won and the one whose work I've seen the most since his win.  You can certainly pick out his work in any exhibition in a crowd!


  • Series 8 (2021) - Calum Stevenson - see Calum Stevenson wins Portrait Artist of the Year (Series 8 Autumn 2021) b. 1997, Falkirk, Scotland) graduated with a BA(Hons) in Fine Arts from Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art & Design in 2019.  He went on to graduate from Glasgow School of Art with a MA in Fine Art Practice in 2020. He was became the youngest and first ever Scottish artist to win Sky Portrait Artist of the Year in 2021.
He didn't like the portrait he did on the day - and I can understand why. So he did another one when he got home - and this is it.




NOTE: Nick Lord who won Series 1 (2013) did not participate. He graduated with a first class degree in fine art from Kingston University in 2011. He painted Lance Corporal Beharry in the Final and Hilary Mantel for the Commission.

I've still not watched the first three series which could only be viewed by Sky subscribers! I'm saving them for my next surgery!!

Judi Dench liked.....

Judi Dench was very taken by the various excellent portraits of her - but opted fro Christian Hook's version. I think she particularly liked the small spots of colour which he introduced which enlivened the portrait without dominating it.

Portrait Artist of the Decade

Sarah Howgate, the Senior Curator of Contemporary Collections at the National Portrait Gallery was chosen as the selector of Portrait of the Decade.

She chose the portrait drawing in charcoal by Gareth Reid - which is interesting as although the collections of the National Portrait Gallery have included portrait drawings, these have always been one's acquired rather than commissions. They don't even commission watercolour paintings!!

I'll be back later this week with my first review of the first episode of Series Ten of Portrait Artist of the Year. 

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