Wednesday, 29 June 2011

I am angry. The BP Portrait Award @ The National Portrait Gallery (Unfinished)

I confess I've never been to the BP Portrait Prize before, and from all its high praise and esteem from those who have been and told me, I had this preconception that it would indeed be this shiny and mind-blowing exhibition.

'Just to Feel Normal', Ian Cumberland

In 3rd place was Ian Cumberland with 'Just to Feel Normal'. I am amazed at the utter honesty in which Cumberland decided to paint in. It's incredible: every facet, every surface goes unmissed, the man's face is strangely illuminated in a sickly silvery light which give his skin a veiny, marble effect. His exhaustion takes shape in the form of two orange patches around his asymmetric eyes. In effect, this portrait shouldn't work aesthetically, but with its honest hyper-realism, it does. It works so well.

The runner-up was Louis Smith

W/ the altarpiece framing

'Holly', Louis Smith

What an innovation! This 8ft canvas (altarpiece?) shows the recreation of the story of Prometheus, who was bound to a rock after stealing from Zeus and left to be eaten to death by an eagle. The model here looks up at the supposedly approaching eagle with a calm submission. She is depicted beautifully with a similar chiaroscuro to Caravaggio's dramatic paintings (although not as dark and plenty of contextual background). The crowd was always -surprisingly- flocked around this particular painting. 

And the 1st prize:

'Distracted', Wim Heldens

I am so angry. Well, more disappointed. It took me forever to find this painting, and after seeing a sharp crescendo in Cumberland and Smith's work, I was expecting 1st prize to surpass them (I am not saying however that it needed to be so inexplicably amazing). Frankly, this is a portrait that I would walk past, in fact, I almost did on the way out, had it not been for the loud orange sign. In its defence, the curating did not help; as a visitor, I would have liked a more linear procession towards the 1st prize, and that would have been satisfied if this was placed in the back room. It's predictable, I know. But let's face it, predictable works. Instead it was placed on the most obscure wall near the front.
To balance out my negativity, it does have a nice context; Heldens is depiciting 25-year-old Jeroen, Helden's father figure. The NGP's director and chair of judges stated his work was 'a quiet but evocative study'. Yes, after standing in front of it for half a minute, I did feel a sense of quiet dignity and childish pride for someone they admire creep in. Quiet confidence is always a dark horse. I feel a little guilty now. But only a little.

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