BP Portrait Award 2016 Scottish National Portrait Gallery review Thursday 24th November 2016

BP Portrait Award First Prize Clara Drummond "Girl In a Liberty Dress"


BP Portrait Award 2016 Exhibition is at The Scottish National Portrait Gallery in Queen Street from 26th November 2016 through to 26th March 2017 and highlights not only the diversity and size of portraiture in contemporary art at the moment, but the depth of artistic talent that is out there.

This exhibition features 53 diverse works of art that each stand out in their own unique way.  This selection itself is only a small fraction of the 2,557 entries submitted by artist from 80 countries, but they do give a cross representation of the global scope and international standing of the BP Portrait Award itself.

There is something here for everyone, from the very large to the small portrait, photo realism to more interpretive techniques. Portraits of better known public faces, family and friends of the artists, children, older people and every age in between.  Also, a huge range of techniques and media used to create the works.  A little bit surprising though is just how conventional in style the vast works of this exhibition are.  This is a collection of pretty much how many people will perceive portrait art rather than any avant-garde or surrealistic approach to the style.

Also nice this year for this exhibition is that the prestigious first prize award has gone to Edinburgh born artist Clara Drummond for her portrait “Girl In A Liberty Dress”.  The work features Clara's friend and fellow artist Kirsty Buchanan who sat for the painting wearing a vintage Liberty dress.  There is an enigmatic quality to this work when you stand beside it that somehow only seems to ever be captured by an artist.  The work is not like some of the other portraits photo realistic, yet somehow your mind starts to fill in the detail and want to know just what was this “Girl in a Liberty Dress” thinking...who exactly is she.

Much of the work on display at this exhibition is very personal to the artist insomuch that it features family members at all stages in their life, from the young to the old, and that journey through life being captured on canvas is perhaps best displayed by the second prize winner, Chinese artist Bo Wang and his portrait of his grandmother lying on a hospital bed a month before she died, aptly titled “Silence”.

This is one of those exhibitions though where one visit is not really enough time to not only view the art, but process the images and try to understand a bit more about the person behind the painting and their relationship to the artist.  This is an exhibition that you can view many times and still keep finding something new to look at, something new to discover.

Review by Tom King



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