Much to the dismay of the anti-corporate activists out there, the only oil to be found at the 23rd BP portrait awards will be on canvas, and not seeping from the floor of the Gulf of Mexico. Opening to the public today, 21st June, the awards showcase a fantastic selection of contemporary portraiture pieces in a vast range of styles. This year’s winning piece ‘Auntie’, by young American artist Aleah Chapin, depicts a close friend of the family in a style somewhat reminiscent of the fleshy palette of the late Lucien Freud. Winner of the Posey Foundation Scholarship, among other awards, Chapin provides an honest depiction of her subject that seeks to provide “a map of her journey through life” and a “personification of strength through an unguarded and accepting presence.”
Asides from the second and third prize winners, Ignacio Estudillo’s ‘El abuelo (Agustín Estudillo)’ and Alan Coulson’s ‘Richie Culver, Contemporary British Artist’ respectively, Peter Goodfellow’s All Dressed up for Mam and Dad is deserving of special attention. Following the death of his parents, Goodfellow, owner of Lost Gallery, found himself in a period of mourning, leaving him unable to paint the landscapes and architectural forms which constitute the usual subjects of his work. A year into this creative block he began his first attempt at portraiture, the result is touching testament to the lives of those to whom he owes his own. The self-portrait depicts the artist solemnly dressed, holding open his brown raincoat on one side revealing a series of photos of his deceased parents' youth. An image of the artist as a babe in the arms of his mother and father takes the place of the most recent image, the others tracing his parent’s lives prior to his birth. Love notes between the couple have been transcribed on the front of the photographs, revealing an intimate and affectionate narrative. Looking back, Goodfellow remembers, “I was appalled by how I treated my parents” in youth. He remembers how they stood by him, morally and otherwise, throughout his years as a young, penniless, artist and it is these memories that have inspired in him a newfound interest in portraiture. He tells us, “portraiture gives people immortality” and this is the aim of this heartfelt piece, to provide an eternal testament to those dearest to this artist.
A further piece that stands out is Carl Randall’s Mr Kitazawas Noodle Bar. The subject of this piece is a restaurant in Tokyo that the artist regularly visited during his time there studying. Depicting friends and acquaintances from his time in Japan, this piece offers an “everyday image of Tokyo from a foreigner’s perspective” whilst also exploring themes of urban isolation. The artist successfully captures the urban dilemma of “being in the same physical space but consciously separate”, Randall shows us how, whilst being united by the metropolis, “each person’s in their individual world.” Randall is the winner of the 2012 BP Travel Award for his proposal to trace the Nakasendo Highway in the wake of Japanese print maker Ando Hiroshige in order to produce a series of portraits that may contrast the route as it is found today with the Hiroshige’s time. The final results of this project will be shown in a solo exhibition one year from now.
The portrait award, now in its 33rd year, and 23rd of partnership with BP, provides a fantastic celebration of and forum for the tradition of portrait painting, housing 55 portraits from the same number of artists.
The BP Portrait Award runs from 21 June – 23 September at the National Portrait Gallery, admission is free.
Words – Toby Austin Locke