BP Portrait Award 2018 at the National Portrait Gallery
This year, the prestigious BP Portrait Award attracted 2,667 entries from 88 countries, all of which were judged anonymously by an expert panel. A comprehensive selection of the most challenging and technically adept were then assembled to form the free-to-view exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery.
The award is in its 39th year, and the collection of works on view contains the usual mix of the conventional and the unexpected. The technical skill of many of the paintings is astounding, with photo-realistic details competing with expressionistic washes of colour and even Pre-Raphaelite-esque gilding.
The winning painting this year is An Angel at My Table by Miriam Escofet. The work is a portrait of the artist’s mother drinking tea, painted with compelling precision and attention to detail, while also including somewhat surrealist elements: a plate appears to be hovering uncertainly, while a candlestick seems to have just zoomed into the composition, rippling the air around it. The work points to the key values of the best portraiture, such as the ability to capture an individual and their personality while also depicting elements of the universal human experience. Here, Escofet creates a sensitive representation of her mother while also alluding to the trope of the universal parent and to ideas of the domestic.
Another highlight is a very different work by American artist Felicia Forte, for Time Traveller, Matthew Napping, depicting her boyfriend Mathew asleep in bed. The large work – which made the award’s shortlist – makes bold use of colour and geometric blocking, while barely alluding to the figure’s face or even the shape of his body. Her unconventional approach is refreshing in an exhibition mostly dedicated to more traditional forms of portraiture.
Overall, this show is worth a look for a few gems and some talented artistry, but it’s unlikely to set any sparks flying.
Featured images: (L) Ania Hobson, A Portrait of Two Female Painters
(R) Miriam Escofet, An Angel at My Table (winner)
BP Portrait Award 2018 is at the National Portrait Gallery from 14th June until 23rd September 2018. For further information visit the exhibition’s website here.