BP Portrait Award 2015

BP Portrait Award 2015
It is October 26 and I am in Edinburgh visiting the BP Portrait Award 2015. Though the award is now in its 36th year, this is the first time I have seen it.
There were 2,748 entries from 92 countries of which 55 were selected for exhibition initially at the National Portrait Gallery in London and subsequently at its counterpart in Edinburgh.
I have a personal interest because I consider portraits phoney. We are enticed by the myth that great portraits reveal hidden depths in the character of the subject. As Duane Michals, a photographer renowned for his portraits, candidly states “I’ve known my mother and father for my entire life and not once did they ever reveal their true selves to me”.
I am familiar with The National Portrait Gallery in London and its underwhelming contents. It is not that the portraits are without interest, they are, but such interest is concerned with whom the portrait is of, who the artist was or what was happening at the time. Rarely are the portraits of significance as works of art. And I am also familiar with the photographic equivalent to the BP Portrait Award, the Taylor Wessing Portrait Prize.
Like the Taylor Wessing Prize, the BP Portrait Prize is dull. There is no invention and little imagination. Most of the subjects are partners, relatives or friends of the artist. Amongst these, two traits are predominant: men with facial tattoos and the elderly. I was relieved that none of the artists claimed to reveal hidden depths but most nevertheless made claims that were not apparent to me, e.g. “catching the transition between childhood innocence and adulthood” in a twelve year old girl whom I would have thought was nearer twenty than twelve and the “perplexity writ large” over the face of a father with Alzheimer’s who was undoubtedly old and wrinkled but not overtly demented.
Nevertheless I would always prefer the BP to the Taylor Wessing because the craft exhibited in many of the works is way beyond what I could ever aspire to. The photorealist portraits, of which there were many, simply beggar belief. The judges must also have a fondness for photorealism though their lack of sentiment prevented them from awarding Michael Gaskell first prize. He has to be content with the runner up award for his portrait of his 12 year old niece “Eliza”….. for the fourth time.


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