"The creation of art is not the fulfillment of a need but the creation of a need.
The world never needed Beethoven's Fifth Symphony until he created it. Now we could not live without it."

-Louis I. Kahn, Architect

Sunday, 21 June 2015

BP Portrait Award: where are the “Rembrandts”?

The BP Portrait Award is an annual portraiture competition held at the National Portrait Gallery in London, England. "BP" stands for "British petroleum" now "BP plc", one of the world's six "supermajor" oil and gas companies.
Rembrandt's laughing self portrait.
A recent Guardian's article  Sad face: doom and gloom at the 2015 BP portrait award by Jonathan Jones. says:
The best portrait painters capture emotion, but there aren’t any Rembrandts in this competition – just a lot of badly daubed tattoos and very serious expressions.
Jonathan Jones writes on art for the Guardian and was on the jury for the 2009 Turner prize. He had these interesting comments on the BP National portrait Gallery award:
The best portrait painters capture emotion, but there aren’t any Rembrandts in this competition – just a lot of badly daubed tattoos and very serious expressions. […] Why should I care about all these people? The sheer battering misery of it all produces callousness and cynicism. Too much po-faced portraiture makes a stone of the heart. This is because art is not a simple conduit of feeling. Only in the hands of a Rembrandt can the brush directly communicate the soul’s truth. The reality of the BP portrait award is that it does not attract the best painters around, but instead is a magnet for mediocrity. This leaves the judges with an impossible task – I know, I have been a judge myself – of trying to find meaning in what are really very uninspired daubs.

From Sad face: doom and gloom at the 2015 BP portrait award

I agree with these comments. Being an artist myself, immensely inspired by a Rembrandt (I am from Belgium a country which was in Rembrandt’s times part of the same “geographic entity” and cultural tradition) and having attempted to modestly be selected to the BP National portrait Gallery award,

I however differ with Jonathan Jones’s analysis as to why there are “no Rembrandts” any more… He says “the BP portrait award is that it does not attract the best painters around.” The reality is that the BP National portrait Gallery award jury does not (pre-) select artists based on real talents. Each time I look at the selected portraits, I am puzzled and wonder why and how?

I agree that these portraits and faces look very gloomy every year I tried to participate to the competition. My strategy was probably doomed as I submitted happy portraits such as this one in 2007:


These portraits were shortlisted that year:
 




More intriguingly, I am almost not impressed by their technique, skills and ability to convey (not) somebody’s soul and emotions via this medium called painting.

In my view, art is about conveying and sharing emotions, or it is not art. This is why I am a great fan of Rembrandt: emotions are “communicated”, hundred of years later, thanks to his unique skills. I also try to share with Rembrandt joyful and daring personality. None of these characteristics are seen among the BP National portrait Gallery award selected artists.

Don’t blame the artists! I know there are contemporary “Rembrandts” out there. I blame the selection committee’s biased blindness. If the selected portraits look gloomy and sad, this is because they reflect the jury itself.

I am more optimistic than the jury and know there are "striving Rembrandts" out there.

When I learned that Kate Middleton official portrait was commissioned to Emsley, a BP 2007 winner the same year I submitted my smiling friend's portrait (see above) and when I saw his result (and the outcry in the country) I felt I had to give it a go. This was one of the reasons I decided to do my “own” Kate Middleton portrait, being selected for the BP award or not. This country is still free after all!

My "Kate Middleton" was done in a rush therefore her outfit looks unfinished. There are two reasons to this:
  1. lack of time (ie money)
  2. being a Republican I chose to focus on her face/ personality rather than on her official outfit. 
I was insulted and even threatened for this here on the internet!



In a way my portrait of Kate Middleton is “unfinished”… on purpose because she was and still is an “unknown”.

Rembrandt's latest portraits such as this one look "unfinished" too. He probably would never been selected to the BP award today. I am happy to share this with him ;) lol.

ps: it is without saying I will never submit any of my portraits to the BP award again.

Rembrandt's laughing self portrait.



No comments:

Post a Comment