In pleasing consistency one of the fine portraits on display at the BP Portrait Awards at the National Portrait Gallery is a magisterial Frank Bowling (above) whose show I recently wrote about and who also was exhibiting in the summer exhibition. There has been some disparaging reviews of the show in some quarters and while it is smaller than this show has been in the past, I really enjoyed it.
The Bowling portrait for example is excellent. The artist, Tedi Lena has superbly captured his appraising alpha gaze. Lena, got to hang out with Bowling in his studio. That must have been excellent. I particularly like the way the beard is rendered and the look over the top of the glasses.
A little on the prize winners. As always not everyone is going to agree but I can see why they won. Starting with the winner, Imra in her Winter Coat by Charlie Schaffer (above left). It is a good portrait. Soulful, slightly mornfull face, detailed and well rendered coat but I suspect the reason it won is that triangular shape, the whole thing in fact is reminiscent of the Rembrandt self portrait that you can see at Kenwood House. Art judges love this kind of nod.
The Crown by Carl-Martin Sandvold (Above right), is well different. The blurry presentation, well I can see how it is different and interesting but it doesn't work for me. Many people thought the same but you have to role with the judging on this case.
However I have to say the third prize and the youth prize are in my view excellent. I was particularly impressed by Sophia and Carla by Emma Hopkins (above left). It is painted on an interesting surface, possibly polyester, something like that, which gives it this ethreal glow. The composition is very strong and the level of detail on the skin, the fur, everything. I would have given this first place, it won Youth Art Prize, and a deserving winner it is.
I also really like the third prize winner (above right) by Massimiliano Pironti. It is called For Quo Vardis. What you don't quite get from the photo is the glow and the sheen to both the dress and the tiles. Those hands though. Aren't they great. The skill on display is quite breath-taking.
and the empty room beyond. There is a photo-realistic level of detail here with a very nice use of light and shadow. The central figure though, particularly her hair lifts it above photo realisim. She look like she is about to speak, or do something.
Regal. Tina Orsolic Dalessio's The Poet (above left) is regal. A strong meditative pose. IT is a take on those old Victorian portraits showing, almost always white men, at their profession. I like that reference. The sitter is a beautiful woman and the use of light and shadow on the face and neck helps empahsise that. The flashes of sliver, very well rendered, help the painting lift out at you. This would have been my choice for first prize.
Effective use of light and shadow can really lift a painting. Give it an extra depth and dynamism which is an element that the prize winners lack somewhat. These two don't though. Above left we have Aurelio by Ivan Chacon. Aurelio is the painters uncle if I remember correctly. It is very hard to capture someone in a painting mid movement. This Chacon has done superbly, like you are in the middle of a conversation with the sitter.
There are a few self portraits in the show (such as the Crown) but my favourite of them is the one above right by Steven Higginson. There a number of things I like. I like the sofft pastel shading of the paint. I like the effect of the Venetian blind shadows across his face. Most of all I think I like that he looks like Professor Green.
It gives a real felling of heat. You can tell it was hot wherever that it is. I like the details on the tiling too, the scratches and the stains.
Lastly is the distinctly odd Eden (protection) by David J EIchenberg. It is, if I recall correctly. painted on aluminium but the unusual pose, the superb way the gold and silver metal is presented, the way the light is reflected on the sitters jaw and her odd sidewise pose all really appealed to me. Also it reminded me of Billie Eilish.
So go along. It is free, it is on until October and there are many more paintings than the ones I have talked about here.
William John Mackenzie
I am an artist with a specialism in landscapes and still life. My contact details are here.