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BP Portrait Award

BP Portrait Award
Wim Heldens - first
Louis Smith - second
Ian Cumberland - third
Young Artist Award - Sertan Saltan

The first in the line up was Isobel Peachey's 'R.H.', a male friend whom she has captured in an almost eerie naturalism.
The first portrait that I felt emotionally overwhelmed by was Jan Mikula's 'Jakub', oil on canvas, but which is clearer than a high resolution photograph. Viewers were getting up as close as they could to examine the paintwork whilst slack-jawed before telling their neighbour 'astonishing'. It is apt, then, that Jakub is a documentary film maker - because this has to be the most authentic documentation of a person in oil that I've seen. A little girl, having stared at it a while, looked up to her mother and said 'that's freaky'.
Louis Smith's 'Holly', the second prize-winner is undoubtedly impressive, if only in size. The scene is based on the classic myth of Prometheus, who was chained to a rock by Zeus. I'm not sure it deserved to make second - but then again, it is a naked woman chained to a rock!
I really admired Colin Davidson's portrait of Oscar-winning Irish song-writer Glen Hansard. Davidson has captured a fretful, melancholic face, although there seems to be an excess of red on Hansard's moustache, which serves to distract somewhat.
Daan van Doorn's portrait of Courtney Pine is bizarre - not because he is sand saxophone - but because his pupils seem like drugged-up pin dots!
Thea Penna's triptych of self-portraits evokes the emotions writ deeply on the face. I almost felt like crying in sympathy at the expressions of anger and sadness.
There seemed to be many portraits of teenage boys - guitar in hand, recovering from the night before, Venus as boy etcetera - these were just ordinary, and not just because of the feeling of ubiquity that they conveyed. So imagine my reaction when I reached the first prize-winner's portrait - of yet another young man. This one is of Jeroen, 'a young man to whom Heldens has been a father figure since childhood'. Whilst impressed by the number of self-taught artists, a group that Wim Heldens belongs to, I was non-plussed by this - as was a teenage girl and her younger brother who were beside me. I really took to the next picture along - Elie Shamir's 'Father and I, Life Size', which shows the artist and his ageing farmer father against a background of the Father's farm and the artist's studio.
Another impressive picture was of Glenda Jackson, by Edward Sutcliffe. It conveys her strength yet fragility too; and hasn't shied away from every crease, crack and crevice.

Location:National Portrait Gallery

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