It’s October, and for another year, the BP Portrait Award exhibition has closed its doors. But as we’re celebrating painting, painting materials, championing colour and looking at light, we thought it was a good time to look back at some of the show-stoppers from the 2014 exhibition.
We caught up with some of the artists who exhibited in the BP Portrait Award 2014, with a unique discussion of their artwork that was featured in The National Portrait Gallery this year.
The artists Lantian D, Melissa Scott-Miller and John Murphy-Woolford were also part of a panel discussion at Cass Art Islington Flagship on the 19th September, with a BP Portrait Award Artist from 2013, Terri Anne Scoble. If you missed it, now’s the perfect time to catch up on what they had to say about their work.
O’Brien’s work, Carolina, featured a young women’s profile, staring levelly out at the viewer, her brown fringe swept to the side and her mouth pursed in an uncertain line. The shadows on her face and freckles on her nose are dark and pronounced, her eyes large and almost sad.
Where do you look for inspiration?
It seems to be everywhere for me, not a day goes by when I don’t see someone whose face I could use for a painting. I’m very conscious that I stare at a lot of people, and myself drifting off into my own world where I’m subconsciously painting them, mixing the colours of their face in my mind.
What draws you specifically to portraiture, and do you make any other work?
Everything! I love it; it’s my every thought and my whole world. Some nights I can’t sleep because I can’t wait to get up and paint. Its interest is never-ending. I can’ say why, it’s just in my soul, in every cell of my body. In the last twelve years I don’t think I’ve painted anything else.
How would you describe your work?
Like marmite. Someone once asked me, “Why do you paint people like they have the plague?” I just try to make my work honest.
Scott –Miller’s portrait, My boy Adam, featured a young boy lounging on a chair, wearing socks and a hat and looking directly out the canvas. His surroundings sport just as much detail – other socks, hats and shoes taking up the radiator behind him, the patterned rug lying at his feet. A white dog sleeps soundly on the floor beside him, completing the natural stance of the scene.
Who or what has influenced your work most?
Light. And my family and surroundings. I mostly paint urban landscapes.
Can you tell us about your method and painting materials?
I draw first and then paint with oil, using really small brushes. I use Old Holland oil paint and Daler Rowney brushes. I buy my linen canvases readymade from Cass Art, and I couldn’t live without my Field Easel. It’s like a mobile studio.
Which colours are essential in your palette?
Titanium White, Burnt Umber, Ultramarine Blue, Cadmium Orange, Cadmium Yellow, Viridian and Yellow Ochre.
Lantian D’s painting, Passersby, depicts three scenes taken from a tube ride. Strangers sit in close proximity to one another, heads bent, avoiding eye contact, or else looking directly at who we can only assume is the painter.
How would you describe your piece?
Frankly speaking, I never enjoyed riding on the underground. A tube carriage can be very depressing fluorescent lights, a bleak interior, passengers trying to avoid each other by immersing themselves in their own silent activities. I sometimes have this apprehension that a train is like a time machine, roaring forward on the tracks of history, and all I’m doing is looking at my own reflection, a pale and insignificant face among the many others. So I force myself to look at the people around me. As I look closer, I find there are connections between everyone. Beneath the mundane façade and oppressive setting, there are fascinating nuances – people’s features, expressions, clothes and gestures. They all speak of stories that are happy and unhappy, alike and unalike. These are vivid tales of real life and it’s my job to tell these stories in my painting.
Could you tell us about your process?
Passersby started as a few quick sketches in my notebook on the underground carriage while I was commuting. It essentially started as a way of passing time. The more I observed, the more I became interested in the subtle dramas and relationships between people. Then the activity turned into a serious search for subjects and inspiration. I would spend 5 hours on the tube, with a pencil and a camera, and then I would compose my work at home based on my sketches and photos. Sometimes I add or delete figures to compose a drama, and modify elements to make the composition and colours work.
Do your painting materials inform the work or vice versa?
The two depend on each other. We are no longer in the age of the Renaissance, so we should true to use better materials than what the divine masters had access to, at least in order to compensate for our lack of talent in comparison.
Murphy Woolford’s portrait is a painterly depiction of a man’s profile, turned slightly so he is looking out of the side of the canvas. The background is dark, a similar shade to his hair and beard, his neck and shoulders bare.
Can you tell us about your work?
My paintings are always quite quiet and reduced, quite still. I don’t like distraction so everything there has a claim to its place. I’m interested in making paintings that are quite self-conscious – the image is a depiction, an illusion, but also reminds you that it’s a painting. I’m not interested in depicting photographically. This is a human process, and I have to see what I paint. I very rarely use source material; I paint what is in front of me and enjoy that exchange between myself and the subject.
And your working process?
I usually start by drawing, but hardly ever keep any drawings or prep work. It just gives me an initial prompt. Then I draw directly onto canvas or board, block out tone with raw umber and then add in deeper and lighter tones with cooler and warmer whites or blacks. Then I start with the blocks of colour. It’s quite a traditional process really. For much of the time, painting is doing something for 20% of the time, and then spending 80% trying to correct it, or figure our why the image isn’t succeeding. It only really comes into focus very near the end for me.
Tell us about your colour palette.
I don’t use many colours, and try to keep my palette as simple as possible. Raw Umber is important because it helps map out the start of a painting, dries quickly and makes a flexible black with Ultramarine Blue. Red Ochre is really important for my portraiture. I like Payne’s Grey and Naples Yellow. Yellow and Chrome Yellow. Cadmium and Crimson Alizarin for the reds, Ultramarine and Cerulean Blues. Zinc and Titanium White. Lamp Black. That’s the core of my palette.
Teri Anne Scoble
Though part of last year's BP Portrait Award, Teri Anne Scoble spoke with the other artists at Cass Art, and is in Sky Arts Portrait Artist of the Year 2014.
Her portrait from last year showed two women having their hair permed, mid-way through a conversation, a cup of tea and glass of water resting in front of them.
Where do you look for inspiration?
All around. Was it Delacroix who said before he died that he had 40 more years of work in his head? Well, I also feel that I do not have enough years for all the ideas and paintings that I want to do.
Where did you grow up and where did you study? Did these places have an influence on your work?
I grew up in London in an artistic creative household. I studied at Corona Stage School and have worked most of my life in the entertainment industry, painting portraits backstage in between shows. As a professional choreographer and dancer my skills and training have a huge effect on my work. As a dancer I’m able to physically feel emotions and understand the subtlety of movement, what’s going on underneath the skin. As a choreographer I’m used to unveiling emotions and feelings and transferring these into art, a statement.
What draws you to portraiture and do you make any other work?
I love figurative work, painting people and faces, capturing a moment with emotion and expression. I also like to paint landscapes. Sometimes I feel I am just starting out and I want to try everything, seek new things, ideas, products and experiment.
Visit each artist’s website by clicking on their name below.
Robert O’Brien, Melissa Scott-Miller, Lantian D, John Murphy-Woolford, Teri Anne Scoble
Our Paint Light Colour campaign is celebrating painting until the end of October. Find out more here.
Read our other interviews with more BP Portrait Award artists here.