Taro Qureshi Wins Heat 3 of Sky Arts Portrait Artist of the Year

by Cass Art

We’re now half way through the heats of Sky Arts Portrait Artist of the Year. Heat three was another episode filled with talented artists hoping to impress their celebrity sitters and judges at the Wallace Collection.

Taking a more systematic approach, this week’s episode saw the artists creating preliminary sketches to capture their sitter, before committing to the final composition in paint.

Impressing the judges with the speed of his painting, a delighted Taro Qureshi was crowned heat three winner and has won a place in the semi-final.

We caught up with Taro to hear more about his speed-painting approach, his favourite materials and how he captures a sense of attitude in his work…

Hi Taro! Congratulations on winning Heat 3 of Sky Arts Portrait of the Year! Can you tell us a little more about your artistic background?

I studied Illustration at Middlesex University. I had a good time - there wasn't much painting, but because we did so much observational drawing, and life drawing, it improved my fundamentals quite a bit. I work three days a week at a canvas printing stall in Romford, and I spend the rest of the time in a shared studio space that I've recently joined in Trinity Buoy Wharf, Poplar. We are working towards a group show at the end of March!

The work I have been producing is quite different to the portraits I made for the show, but I think the energy is the similar. I've been working on large scale abstract pieces with lots of drawing that come as fresh out of my brain as possible. I've attached some pictures!

You use an array of different colours to achieve your work, how has your painting style developed?

I think with my work it's all about the impact. I like it when the painting is buzzing with life. My use of colour follows this. A lot of the time it is very 0-100. I read a fantastic book before the heat called 'The Art Spirit' by Robert Henri. He says that the 'intention must come first, and the technique to follow.' If my intention is to capture the reality of the sitter and their energy, then my colour choices have to help me express that. I try and pick up on as many small variations in colour as possible. Most of them are reflections of reality, but some are more based on feelings and instinct.

Do you have any materials you cannot live without?

I've been using Daler Rowney Acrylics since GCSE because - and this is going to sound ridiculous but it's true - I like the way the tubes look. I like the branding. It's nice and crisp. The paint is great too however! I am very rough with my materials, and these acrylics seem to adapt to whatever troubling situation I put them in - applying them liberally to stolen chipboard for example. For the drawing parts of my work I'm very particular! Faber Castell 6B pencils are the only ones I'll use. I don't think I've ever made a good piece of work with any other type of pencil!

You used preparatory sketches before jumping straight in to a very fast paced style of portrait painting. Can you tell us more about your process?

The first bit of a portrait painting for me is gathering information. I started with  sketches on the show in order to capture interesting notes and facets of the sitter's pose. I wanted to capture their essence and a sketch is a good way to get a handle on it. It lets you quickly transcribe their image without over complicating the process, and informs the painting enormously. When I start painting I try and remain as free and energetic as I was with the drawing. It's like how if you were to sit down and quickly write the first ten chapters of a book, it may not be the most coherent but it will be honest and almost certainly interesting. I'm keen on not losing that honesty.

The judges said you captured more than a likeness, but an attitude. How to you translate a sense of personality into your work?

That's a great thing to hear! People are way more interesting than just how their face looks. I think a great portrait delves deeper. After having a really exploratory and intimate conversation with somebody, you see them differently. When I'm painting or drawing somebody, I try to open my doors to them as much as possible. I want to allow as much of them in as I can, and then put that on to paper with as much immediacy as I can manage. I aim to look at them in a physical sense and also feel their energy. If you manage to depict their energy as well as their likeness, your painting will feel alive. 

Since your experience at the Wallace Collection, how has Sky Arts influenced you as an artist?

My favourite thing about being on the show was being given a fancy room to paint in, and feeling like I was doing something that people were interested in. I've always taken my art seriously, but the whole experience has helped me to believe that I might be able to be a professional artist after all. It helped me to convince my parents that I might actually be on to something! Before the show I didn't actually paint that many portraits - although I did draw people in my sketchbook a lot. I've been painting a lot more since then and really enjoying the process. If you do it right it feels like you really connect with your sitter and that's very rewarding.

Feeling Inspired?

Read our exclusive interviews with Sky Arts Portrait Artist of the Year 2017 heat winners every week on the Cass Art Blog.

Follow Taro’s lead and experiment with speed painting with quick drying paint mediums, such as acrylic range online and in-store. Stock up on your own painting and drawing supplies, and share your portrait paintings via our social channels. Use the hashtag #POATY2017 and don't forget to tag @CASSART

Catch the next episode of Sky Arts Portrait Artist of the Year 2017 on Tuesday 14th February on Sky Arts from 8pm.





As the long awaited return of Portrait Artist of the Year returns to our screens, what better inspiration to prepare you for next year's competition? Find out more about how to enter and our top tips for choosing your submission in our Call for Entries blog.

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