Interviews with BP Portrait Award Artists 2015: Part 1

by Cass Art

The BP Portrait Award 2015 is proving to be another roaring success. In its 36th year this year, there were 2,748 entries submitted by artists across 92 countries, and the resulting exhibition represents the very best of contemporary portrait painting.

The top prize of £30,000 was awarded to Israeli artist Matan Ben Cnaan, for his painting Annabelle and Guy.

Read on for some insight into the artists behind the BP Portrait Award this year, including their inspiration, favourite materials and stories behind their exhibited paintings.

Pictured Above: Annabelle and Guy by Matan Ben Cnaan, 2015, Oil on board

Congratulations on winning the BP Portrait Award Matan! How does it feel and what does it mean for your career?

Well, the truth is that I still haven't had the time to sit down and feel it, but it is truly awsome. Although it's still pretty fresh it's totally influenced my career status already; collectors and galleries are approching me and the publicity is just amazing.

You paint many things, landscapes, still life and portraits. What is it that inspires you to paint?

I try to combine two motives within my painting: the element of emotions and the development of my pictorial languge. But above all it is light that motivates me. Whether it's in a landscape or still life, understanding the light is the key while the rest is derived from it.

Could you tell us about your winning painting, Annabelle and Guy?

Annabelle and Guy is a painting which I was wondering about for years with its vision in my head, and then I found the right sitters for it. I was inspired by a biblical story of Japhathah and his daughter. But I didn't want to make an ilustration of a story, but rather take the emotional complexities of the story and impose it into a portrait. The challenge was to take total abstract matter like tension, grief and fear and literally put them into shapes. The main motive of the painting is the light. But it was very important for me to solve the relations between the figures and their expressions.

Sara Berman
Rebekkah by Sara Berman, 2014, Oil on canvas

What drives you to paint people?

I am interested in identity and image, so whilst I do paint and make all variety of things, the figure always has a draw. I'm also interested in the language of clothing and with that comes the figure.

Your style is painterly with abstract components; shapes and jagged sections reminiscent of Picasso. Can you elaborate a little on your painting style?

I am very interested in the materiality of paint and also the energy of the act of painting. I tend to let those things lead my work. Sometimes I enjoy a slower rhythm, and sometimes I like to throw the paint around. I think this dictates my style. Sometimes games are involved - little rituals which also bend my style about.

Your work is wonderfully different from a lot of the photorealistic portraits in the BP Award. Do you work from life, photographs or memory?

All but mainly photos, found images, magazine, collage and memory or imagination.  Again it depends on my rhythm. If I am going slow I like a reference, but if I am using a lot of energy and chucking paint about it is much more between myself and the surface in a very direct way, with no glancing outside of that relationship to a source.

Sophie Williams

Just After Noon by Sophie Williams, 2014, Oil on board 

Congratulations on your BP Portrait Award oil painting! Were your tutors at Brighton impressed?

My tutors at Brighton have been very supportive and encouraging throughout my degree. Having been one of fifty-five artists chosen to exhibit out of the 2750 applicants, I was overwhelmed and honoured. My tutors have been extremely supportive of this achievement and I am greatful to have their guidance. Being accepted into the PB portrait award has inspired me to work harder and refine my artistic style. I am excited to continue developing my work and see how my work can evolve. 

How did your foundation at Kingston prepare you for a fine art degree?

My art foundation prepared me for the transition to university. It really broadened my artistic perspective, and encouraged me to mature as an artist. I feel that my work is developing all the time. 

What oil paint do you like to use and why? 

As a student I use affordable oils at the moment! Georgian oils mostly. However, I hope that I can soon move on to materials with richer colours.

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