Summer Tasks – Exhibition review: BP Portrait Award

The BP Portrait award exhibition was held at the national portrait gallery and showcased the works of selected nominees for the award. It is an annual award where the only guidelines for submissions is to produce a creative portrait through the medium of painting. The gallery had chosen to showcase over 50 artists works, allowing viewers to be awe struck by the sheer diversity and originality of each artists work.I was amazed at how many of the paintings had a photographic quality about them, walking through the exhibition and seeing so many realistic portraits highlighted the skill of the artists chosen to showcase their works. Each artist had a different style and represented their subjects through different compositions, themes and painting styles. No painting looked similar which really highlighted the creativity and originality of each artist.

Although there were over 50 submissions each painting was given enough room to be appreciated on its own. The portraits communicated through their compositions and painting techniques and in some the bond between the subject and painter shone through the image. Third prize winner David Jon Kassan painting ‘Letter to my mom’ was thoughtful and beautiful, there was such incredible attention to detail. Kassans painting shows his mother appearing deep in thought, standing against a stone wall with a hebrew verse printed above her. This verse gives hints about Kassan’s culture, viewers can connect with and understand this painting because it is about a mother-child relationship. This painting feels very personal and highlights the importance of family and maintaining relationships. Kassans letter to his mother reads:

“Dear Mom,

This painting is my way to spend more time with you.
My way to meditate on our life together.
And all of the earliest memories I have.
All of my earliest memories from you”. (David Jon Kassan 2014)


Viewers connect with Kassans work, like many of the other more intimate portraits on display. This painting stood out to me because of its beautiful detail. The uses of blues and greens make the subjects hands seem translucent and extremely realistic; this gives hints to the subjects age and displays her as fragile. To me this painting seemed to reflect the love Kassan has for his mother which adds to the beauty of the painting.

The works of the 2013 BP Portrait prize winner Sophie Ploeg were also on display, her portraits ‘The Four Ages of Woman’  stood out to me as the paintings were incredibly intricate and detailed. There were four portraits displayed in four wooden frames each showing women of different ages, the only thing similar in each was that every subject was painted wearing a piece of lace around them. When looking closer at these portraits I noticed that the women were wearing quite modern clothing which contrasted with the paintings atmosphere. The lighting, background and lace looked like they belonged to a painting set in a different era, this made me realise that the lace was what made me think this. The lace accessories each woman is wearing gives the portrait a vintage and old fashioned feel, painted so realistically it really captures a viewers attention. We immediately see how time consuming painting this lace must have been and how effective its involvement in each image is. The way that something as seemingly simple as a piece of lace material can change the atmosphere of a whole image really amazed me.


‘The Four Ages of Woman’ Sophie Ploeg 

The winner of the BP portrait prize was Thomas Ganter for his portrait ‘Man with a Plaid Blanket which features a homeless subject painted against a beautifully designed background made using gold leaf. The image itself was extremely powerful, as viewers look at the painting the homeless man gazes down at them with a striking and confident expression. The subjects clothing and the paintings title contrast with the beautiful and grand looking background which adds to the images appeal. Ganter wanted to portray the homeless man in a respectful way, so he brought the subject away from a natural environment and made the portrait look like that of someone who hold huge importance. He wanted to deliver the message that everyone is important and deserves respect. This portrait is powerful and unique with an important message to tell onlookers, the visuals are beautiful and the painting technique is greatly detailed highlighting the tones in the skin and the stitching on material making this portrait a worthy winner.

Man with a Plaid Blanket' by Thomas Ganter, shortlisted for the BP Portrait Award 2014

‘Man with a Plaid Blanket’, Thomas Ganter, 2014

Overall the exhibition was extremely inspiring because I was able to see how artists represented people known and unknown to them. The ideas and style of painting in each image were so unique – there were portraits that focused on fashion, history and family, all from very different perspectives. Every painting gave me inspiration to try new compositions and themes for my own images as there are so many creative ways to represent people. Viewing the paintings has shown me that every small detail works together to create an atmosphere. Looking through the exhibition i was able to appreciate the modern styles of art as well as the more traditional styles. It was interesting to see how painting styles are always changing and how traditional painting styles are being developed.



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