Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Art-iculate: BP Portrait Award 2011

A few weeks ago I popped down to the National Portrait Gallery to view the annual Portrait Prize sponsored by BP. I cannot believe it’s now over a year since I last viewed the nominees work and meet a lovely Elizabeth McDonald (who won the award for BP Young Artist), whom I subsequently interviewed for the Hub Magazine.
Distracted by Wim Heldens © Wim Heldens [1st prize]
For 2011, as always there could only be three main winners, and of course the most exciting winner of them all; the BP Young Artist. In a record-breaking year for entries, the prestigious first prize was won by 57-year-old artist Wim Heldens, who has been exhibited twice before in the competition (2008 and 2010). Shortlisted for the first time this year, Heldens is proof that determination pays off. His winning portrait, Distracted, is a picture of a 25-year-old philosophy student, Jeroen whom the artist has painted 20 times at different stages of his life. Winning a grand prize of £25,000, Heldens will also be awarded a private commission at the National Portrait Gallery Trustees’ discretion, worth a further £4,000.

Heldens says: “I paint from intuition, always trying to paint that what touches me deepest, but being a painter who is more of a doer than a thinker, it is very hard for me to explain what I try to capture. As Edward Hopper says: ‘If you could say it in words, there would be no more reason to paint’... I paint what I ‘feel’ with my eyes and maybe it is for other people then to tell what I have captured”.
Holly by Louis Smith © Louis Smith [2nd prize]
The second prize of a cool £8,000 went to Mancunian Louis Smith for Holly. Since studying scene painting at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, Smith has exhibited in Britain and Italy and at the 2009 BP Portrait Award. His eight-foot portrait shows a naked model called Holly hand-cuffed to a rock in a wild cave-like landscape. The Allegory of Prometheus is re-imagined in female form. Prometheus stole fire from Zeus and gave it to mortals. As punishment he was bound to a rock while an eagle ate his liver daily only for it to grow back to be eaten the next day. Holly looks into the eagle’s face with calm resilience, accepting her fate.

“It’s a message of composure in the face of adversity, something we can all draw strength from in our struggle to make a daily living!”, says the artist. The portrait has a huge gilt frame with a marble plaque at the base, inscribed with the name ‘Holly’. “It’s an extravagant attempt to illuminate the Baroque style”, says Smith.
Just to Feel Normal by Ian Cumberland © Ian Cumberland [3rd prize]
Coming in third is Ian Cumberland for Just to Feel Normal, who took away a respectable £6,000 for his efforts. Living and working in County Down, Northern Ireland, since graduating in Fine and Applied Arts at the University of Ulster in 2006 Cumberland has had a solo exhibition at the Albermarle Gallery in London and has won several awards – also exhibiting in the BP Portrait Award in 2009.

His shortlisted portrait for 2011 is an enigmatic half-smiling head-and-shoulders study of a friend. ‘This is a painting of a friend whose story is like many others from my generation that have fallen victim to themselves and their preferred habits”, says Cumberland. “The title Just to feel Normal refers to his answer when asked why he continues along his chosen path.”
Mrs. Cerna by Sertan Saltan © Sertan Saltan [BP Young Artist Award]
For the fifth year of its existence, the BP Young Artist Award of £5,000 for the work of an entrant aged between 18 and 30 was awarded to Sertan Saltan for Mrs Cerna. Born in 1982 in Eskisehir, Turkey, Saltan now lives and works in Avon, Connecticut, where he is developing a studio. His sitter Mrs Cerna is the younger sister of a friend in New York City, who is caught glancing at the artist, almost menacingly, in her hair rollers and latex gloves sharpening a large knife.

“The contrast of knife, gloves and rollers brought both humour and horror to mind”, says Saltan. “The animated sharpening of the knives and thoughtful facial expressions were burned into my mind’s eye. I wanted to capture on canvas that moment which allows the viewer to meet this extraordinary woman and experience the richness and complexity of her preparation for Thanksgiving dinner.”

The BP Portrait Award 2011 and BP Travel Award 2010 will be displayed, free of charge at the National Portrait Gallery until 18 September.

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