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BP Portrait Award - review (sort of)

I went to see the BP Portrait Award exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery in London yesterday. I met up with two facebook friends and fellow artists and had a wonderful day.  The BP exhibition is an awesome show and I came back wanting to paint. So, very inspiring indeed. Although I found there were quite a few paintings that used modernist gimmicks and invisible concepts, there were some paintings that showed the work of some of the best painters around at the moment. I feel the term ‘portrait’ was sometimes taken in a very big and wide manner but the majority of works were good-ol portraits indeed.
The highlights for me:

Alan Coulson. This painting is just so impressive in real life. The picture does not do justice to the real thing. It oozes character. You can feel the bloke in the picture. Technically it is amazing, the tiny brushmarks in his face make the whole thing sing.
Richie Culver, 85x59cm. ©Alan Coulson

Another highlight was Mary Jane Ansell’s portrait of her father. Again, it is technically superb, but she is using her skills to evoke some real emotions. The portrait is interesting, respectful, tender. Integrity is what makes a portrait work for me.

More highlights: Benjamin Sullivan (boy that guy can paint!! a true master)
Tim Benson (furthest removed from how I paint but he manages to get a huge amount of character and emotion into his bold brush marks. And again, no gimmicks, just plain good painting!!)
Roni Taharlev, and Jean-Paul Tibbles.

I hope that the paintings that show a ‘look at me I am so quirky, bold, modern, daring, arty,’ attitude will disappear from the show next year.....
I suppose I should mention the winner, Aleah Chapin, who won the BP Prize with her huge painting ‘Auntie’. I think Aleah can do amazing things with paint. The way she paints skin is very beautiful. But it reminds me of an unmade bed...are we supposed to be shocked? Surprised? Charmed? A naked elderly lady. Not something we see very often in our western culture that is so focussed on youth and beauty. But displaying a naked elderly lady schmacks of old fashioned modernism. I am sure she IS beautiful. There’s no need to tell me.
But hey, who am I anyway?! Taste, as Grayson Perry has recently explained to us, is a fugitive thing to understand. Each to their own. And I congratulate Aleah with her win, she is no doubt an amazingly skilled painter.

During my trip to London I visited some other galleries and went to see the American Figurative Show at the Albermarle Gallery where I especially loved Gabriela Dellosso’s work and I discovered a new artist (for me) at the Medici Gallery:  Amnon David Ar. Stunning work. And one day, one day, I will take home one of the sculptures of Matthew Simmonds. I just melt by his work. If ever he does a Hawksmoor or Vanbrugh sculpture I just must have it.

Feel free to leave a comment below.


  1. Thanks for posting this first-hand view of the show Sophie! Wish I could have gone with you.

  2. Sophie, your fine review of the show opened so many computer windows for me, thank you so much! I particularly like the work of Jean-Paul Tibbles who you introduced me to, among others. Great inspiration.

  3. Hi Sophie, Thanks so much for the mention in this extremely insightful review. All the very best, Tim

  4. You’re welcome all. Glad you like my little ramble.
    Tim, the only two paintings I ever saw for real (I think) was your tiny self portrait at the RP and this huge one at the BP. I’ll assume everything else you paint is in between!
    Mona, Tibbles does awewome work. Last year he had some paintings in the Portrait Society show in London, of a woman brushing her hair. It just glowed!
    Nancy, that would have been fab.
    Gilberte - c’mon over to London! Do check the little video that Katherine Tyrell made - its on my facebook page.


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