Have to disagree with ‘Time Out London’
In a ‘Time Out London‘ review of the BP Portrait Awards at the National Portrait Gallery the writer asks the question ‘the problem with portraiture is the people. You have to ask yourself if you care about any of the faces staring out at you… and the answer almost overwhelmingly is ‘no’.’
The writers viewpoint is almost mocked by the first portrait in the gallery attached to the article.
The portrait is by Geoffrey Beasley and is titled ‘Eddy in the Morning’. Eddy is a slightly disheveled young man with bed hair, stubble and a crumpled white t-shirt. His eyes stare out of the canvass not at the viewer but into the day; the classes and lectures he will attend, the pals he’ll meet up with, the night out he needs a clean shirt for and beyond that into the future of summers touring Europe, a year out backpacking and then getting that cool job in London. ‘Eddy in the Morning’ is every mothers son, every fathers pride, every guys best mate.
‘Eddy in the Morning’ didn’t win a prize, although being one of the fifty five portraits chosen from 2,377 entries to be displayed in the National Portrait Gallery’s ‘BP Portrait Awards’ is prize enough.
And first prize goes to…
The first prize went to Thomas Ganter for ‘Homeless Man with a Plaid Blanket’. This portrait as Ganter tells us takes a homeless man and portrays him the same as any noble or saint in any portrait through the ages when only the rich or the church could commission it. Ganter makes us ask questions of ourselves. In our streets we don’t look at the homeless people, we give them a wide birth, we stare intently forward ignoring the question ‘do you have any spare change please?’. Would it matter that much if we dropped a coin into the cup or stopped to chat? Just because we spoke to them doesn’t mean we have to take them home and give them a better life. But the conversation may make both of us a little better.
Great chefs make great subjects
Like ‘Eddy in the Morning’ many of the portraits are of a son or daughter, partner or a good friend and maybe because of this the empathy the artist has with their subject can be seen in the paintings.
One of the portraits that doesn’t seem to have a family or friend connection and could be a commission is Henrietta Graham’s ‘James Martin’. Commission or not the empathy is still there and we seem to understand this great chef more because of the portrait. Maybe that is what a very good and skilled artist can do, bring out the heart and soul of their subject regardless of the connection. Of course painting a great chef in his kitchen where his heart and soul probably are probably helps.
There is a very happy connection between the painting by Tim Hall and his subject. The ‘Henrietta’ of the portraits title ‘Henrietta and Ollie’ is the painters wife and Ollie is the family pet. ‘Henrietta’ is of course Henrietta Graham and in the portrait she is seen working hard surrounded by the tools of her trade on a portrait of another great chef ‘Rene Redzepi’. At Sunderland Museum & Winter Gardens where the exhibition is currently on show the two portraits stand side by side maybe to emphasise this connection.
My favourite things
Visitors to the exhibition often ask each other which is their favourite; with so many to choose from it could be ‘Juan Mosca’ by Rodrigo Hurtado, where the subject seems to be everyone’s granddad or ‘Princess Julia in Meadham Kirchoff’ by Ben Ashton, where the clothes by Meadham Kirchhoff seem to lift off the painting. ‘Northern Bather’ by Gareth Reid reminds this viewer of the work of Dame Laura Knight, but perhaps a favourite favourite is ‘Jordan’ by Alan Coulson, a rather wonderful painting of the quite handsome Jordan – a person who in the video ‘What the Artist Saw – The Judging’ by the National Portrait Gallery says rather bashfully ‘I’m a nobody…’. Well nobody is a nobody and maybe it takes art, culture and above all these portraits to remind us of that.
Artists and old lace
A set of portraits that shouldn’t go unsung are the portraits by Dutch artist Sophie Ploeg the winner of the BP Travel Award in 2013. Her winning proposal for the award in 2013 was to interpret the use of fabric and lace in seventeenth century portraiture. This she has done by visiting many galleries including the Holbourne Museum in Bath, the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam and the Frans Hals Museum in Haarlem to study portraiture where lace and fabric is an integral part. She also visited modern lacemaking centres such as Bruges and Honiton. What has came from it is a fascinating set of portraits that echo the seventeenth century and yet appear so contemporary with the sitters being very modern women. The portraits on display include amongst others the original 2013 winner ‘Pleating Time’, ‘The Long Wait’, The Handkerchief Girl’ and the fascinating ‘She Becomes Her’ where the sitter wears the toxic Venetian Ceruse to whiten her complexion and provide a mask between her real self and the viewer.
Sunderland’s next big exhibition
Sunderland Museum & Winter Gardens have the BP Portrait Awards from the National Portrait Gallery possibly because of the success of their last major exhibition which was Grayson Perry’s ‘The Vanity of Small Differences’. The museum is the only gallery in England, apart from the National Portrait Gallery of course, to host the exhibition and that is testament to the cities burgeoning status as a home for art and culture in all its guises. Wonder what they’ll get next…
Find out more about the BP Portrait Awards.
Find out more about the National Portrait Gallery.