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BP Portrait Award 2012 – exhibition

20 June 2012 Anita Mistry

The National Portrait Gallery’s annual award has been running since 1987 and has been sponsored by BP since 1989. This year the competition was as tough as ever with over 2000 entries. London Calling’s Anita Mistry gives us the lowdown of the 2012 exhibition.

The National Portrait Gallery’s BP Portrait Award winner for 2012 was announced as Aleah Chaplin. The 26 year-old American winner of the prestigious portrait prize of £25,000 will also receive a £4,000 commission. Aleah won the prize from over 2100 entries, submitted from 74 countries. The work is part of a series of paintings of women Aleah has known all her life. Of this portrait, ‘Auntie’ she says, “the fact that she has known me since birth is extremely important. Her body is a map of her journey through life. In her, I see the personification of strength through an unguarded and accepting presence.”

The second prize was awarded to Ignacio Estudillo for ‘El abuelo (Agustín Estudillo)’. This large canvas by the Spanish artist shows his grandfather and it was Agustín‘s life experiences that urged Ignacio to paint him. Third prize winner Alan Coulson’s portrait is an honest and frank frontal pose of fellow artist and friend Richie Culver. His unique look and calm nature are captured beautifully.

The BP Young Artist Award was given to Jamie Routley for his triptych of Tony Lewis, who, working at a newspaper stand at Baron’s Court tube, would see Jamie “walking through with a canvas on his back.” The pair got chatting and Jamie asked Tony to sit for him. “'I didn't set out to paint a triptych, but I found after each painting there was more to say. A past had been hinted at during the sittings for the first painting that I couldn't leave alone. Tony told me that for the first time in decades he'd found an environment that was both stimulating an allowed for quiet reflection. So we continued... It was an intense and profound experience for both of us.”

With 55 portraits on show, the BP Portrait Award 2012 exhibition is as fresh and eclectic as ever. The painterly portrait of ‘Tessa and the clay heads’ by Ruth Murray is striking not only for it’s size, tone and opaque colours, but also composition. Tessa sits, knees drawn to her chest as she is overlooked by a series of clay heads. The swimming effect of the painted bench on which they sit, captures a sense of vitality amongst the still life and the sitter. Louise Pragnell who also featured in the exhibition last year, though with a very different portrait, submitted ‘Tom, waiting’. ‘I met Tom when I went to look round the Royal Hospital on a grey January day. He agreed to sit for me in a waiting room.’ The piece is a wonderfully regal, yet relaxed portrait of the Chelsea Pensioner.

One of my favourite pieces is ‘Silent Eyes’ by Antonios Titakis. This large close-up portrait of Antonios’s close friend Dimitra is part of a series and Antonios felt a particular closeness to Dimitra having both recently lost their fathers. “I chose to work on a larger scale so as to capture the essence of what is represented, to penetrate into the picture’s structure and beyond the ‘obvious’.” The effect of this is awe-inspiring; I couldn’t take my eyes off it.

The status of the award is growing with a large number of international applicants. Worldwide popularity and prestigiousness of the prize ensures that the calibre of entries will continue to be particularly high.

 

The BP Portrait Award 2012 exhibition is on at the National Portrait Gallery 21 June – 23 September. Admission free.

 

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