A portrait of Dame Kelly Holmes the double Olympic champion has gone on display at the National Portrait Gallery. The portrait is the work of the South African artist Craig Wylie, and was commissioned as part of the First Prize in the BP Portrait Award competition at the Gallery in 2008.
The portrait is a large-scale (172 cm x 115 cm) head and shoulders oil painting. The size of the work is important to the artist, who says that the act of painting creates ‘a kind of hyperreality through amplification’. Sittings for the portrait took place in late 2011 during which Wylie took a number of photographs of Dame Kelly Holmes from which to work. The portrait has a narrow format with the sides of the canvas cropped close to the edge of the sitter’s head but leaving space above. With this approach Wylie hoped to focus the attention of the viewer on the sitter’s gaze. The portrait evokes a sense of reflection and represents Dame Kelly in a commanding yet personal way.
Dame Kelly Holmes (b.1970) began athletics at the age of 12 in Tonbridge, Kent, and twice won the English Schools 1500m (1983 and 1987). She joined the British Army at the age of 17 and qualified as an HGV driver before training as a Physical Training Instructor. Dame Kelly left the army in 1992 as a sergeant after being awarded an MBE for Services to the British Army. During her time in the Army she had gone back to international athletics and in 1994 won the 1500m at the Commonwealth Games. Despite suffering several years of injury, Dame Kelly won medals at the Commonwealth Games, European Championships, World Championships and Olympic Games including a bronze medal at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney. She achieved her ultimate ambition of winning Olympic gold twice in Athens in the 800m and 1500m. Dame Kelly retired from athletics in 2005 and in the same year was made a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire. She is Founder and Chair of the Dame Kelly Holmes Legacy Trust, a charity that seeks to create life chances for young people through personal development programmes. She also runs her own company, Double Gold, managing a range of education and mentoring programmes and has her own fitness range. Dame Kelly is President of Commonwealth Games England and Official Ambassador for Team GB.
Craig Wylie (1973) was born in Zimbabwe and studied Fine Art at Rhodes University, Grahamstown, South Africa. He moved to London in 1998 and, after exhibiting at the BP Portrait Award for three successive years he won First Prize for a portrait of his girlfriend, Katherine Raw in 2008. Wylie paints predominantly from photographs to produce large-scale works of great depth and clarity. His work has been exhibited internationally including recent exhibitions at Contemporary by Angela Li, Hong Kong, Galerie Dukan Hourdequin, Paris and Neuer Kunstverein Aschaffenburg, Germany.
Dame Kelly Holmes says: ‘I am honoured to have my portrait featured at the National Portrait Gallery alongside some amazing people. I hope people of all ages will take the opportunity to visit the National Portrait Gallery this summer, and enjoy some of our Great British culture during the unique celebration of the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games.’
Sandy Nairne, Director of the National Portrait Gallery, London, says: ‘This is a compelling portrait of a sitter who has made a very significant contribution to British sporting history and whose achievement is inspiring to so many’.
This portrait joins other works in the National Portrait Gallery’s Collection of commissions of BP Portrait Award winning artistsincluding J.K. Rowling by Stuart Pearson Wright, (BP Portrait Award winner 2001), Sir Peter Mansfield by Stephen Shankland (winner 2004), Dame Cicely Saunders by Catherine Goodman (winner 2002), Fiona Shaw by Victoria Russell (winner 2000), Sir Paul Smith by James Lloyd (winner 1997), Dame Helen Mirren by Ishbel Myerscough (winner 1995) and Camila Batmanghelidjh by Dean Marsh (winner 2005).