The BP Portrait Award at the National Portrait Gallery opens with a heartening abundance of painterly portraits which celebrate the true art of painting – brush strokes, smudges are clear to see and gladden my heart.

Call me old-fashioned but I’ve always believed that a painting should look like a painting, not a glossy, photorealistic copy of a polaroid or photograph which has been cleverly reproduced using paint.  I love the sensation of art which is full of daubs and dashes, colour and clashes and the sense that a human hand has flourished its style upon a piece of canvas or board and used this humble material in a vigorous and lively way to capture a likeness.  OK, so I use paper in my own art, but a fragment of paper is like a blob of paint on a brush and that is the style I have created.

So, I’m always interested to see what the judges of the BP Portrait Award have chosen and this year I’m very pleased to say that there is an abundance of splashy, plashy portraits which absolutely use the viscous nature of oil or acrylic.

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I was delighted to meet Sarah Jane Moon by her excellent portrait of Dr Ronx.  Deliberately ambiguous, this portrait of a woman is beguiling – the stance and gaze is quite male but her features are feminine – but it was the joyful use of paint which attracted me. Paint was applied with enthusiasm, colour contrasts working well and the pale green ground, which comes through in the suit, breaks through the layers of strong colour.

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Likewise, I loved Gandee Vasan’s Aunty Therese.  It was a joy to chat to both artist and subject in front of the portrait.  The use of paint is clear to see, the gaze of the subject and the nod of her head fixes you – she judges us, the viewer, as much as we judge her.  Apparently it was painted in an eight hour sitting and the artist wanted to capture his Irish/Canadian aunt’s ‘indomitable spirit’.

Bridget Cox’s Chinese Cloth is reminiscent of Matisse with the busy, painterly background and the delightfully ruddy cheeks and nose of the subject. I liked Dieja by Scott Lancashire. Apparently it was done in a two-hour sitting. I like a bit of speedy painting.

And the full size nude of Marcus by Vanessa Garwood was a great depiction of a professional life model comfortable posing within a mix of fabrics all painted with big, broad brushstrokes.

 

I’ll just add in a few more photos I took of paintings which particularly caught my eye.

The exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery is on until 20th October.

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