BP Portrait Award 2015

BP Portrait Award 2015

The National Portrait Gallery opened it’s doors to the public last Thursday, to launch the exhibition of the ‘BP Portrait Awards 2015’. This highly acclaimed, annual competition is unusual because it requires that all artists enter their work anonymously, so that the judges can critique entries without bias. Now in it’s thirty-sixth year, this annual showcase does not fail to get people talking.

BP Portrait Award 2015

From a portrait of a holocaust surviver, to a physically deformed cancer survivor, to an elderly man with dementia, followed by a depressed artists self-portrait of their fully-clothed plunge into a bath, this exhibition certainly isn’t a jovial one. However, if you are prepared to leave the exhibition feeling a little glummer than when you went in, then there is a lot to be gained from forty-five minutes here. The exhibition presents a thought-provoking insight into human emotion and behaviour, which brings to question the interpretation of the models by each artist. Are all the models really feeling so sad? Or is it the painter with the real emotional issues? It’s hard to say.

Annabelle and Guy - Matan Ben-Cnaan

 The winning portrait by Matan Ben-Canaan, “Annabelle And Guy”.

 The majority of the paintings are incredibly accurate recreations of people and scenes that at first glance dupe the viewer into believing that they are, in fact, photographs. I was utterly bowled over by many of the artists skilful depictions of light and texture. There is no doubt that the nominated artists have remarkable talent, with awe-inspiring results. The resounding shrieks of “Look at the subtle detail in every hair!” and “That knitted hat is amazing. I want to touch it!” goes to prove that it was not just me that appreciated the brilliance of these paintings. However, by painting ten I expect most of the visitors were desperate for some emotion-fuelled, erratic brush strokes, and an interpretation of lighting that did not suggest each model were a renaissance-style Jesus lookalike.

This gritty, abstract intensity that we all craved finally came in the form of Borja Buces Renard’s “My Mother and Brother on a Sunday Evening” (large image at top of page).

It depicts the two characters comfortably intertwined on their family sofa. This painting uses splattered paint effects with raw brush strokes, which combine to portray an overwhelming sense of emotion in the scene. The painting seems to be dissolving into the canvas, particularly since the edges fade away into nothingness. It’s as if you are looking in on the artists personal hazy memory, as the two characters in the painting look back at you expectantly.

Renard’s description of the painting, gives an explanation for it’s emotional intensity. The artists father does not feature in the painting because he was sick with multiple sclerosis at the time. Sadly, he passed away just four weeks later.

Although this piece won third place in the competition, it would certainly be my number one!

Overall, I would absolutely recommend hopping on that early train to Central London, and giving yourself forty-five minutes to take in this selection of portraits. Since it’s free you really have no excuse! Just be prepared to leave feeling a little more gloomy than when you went in, but with some solid plans to sit in the sunshine with more Pimms than you should probably be drinking on a week night.