BP Portrait Award 2016 Reveals Shortlisted Artists For £30k Prize

The BP Portrait Award 2016 at the National Portrait Gallery, London, has unveiled the three shortlisted artists for the prestigious 2016 prize, which will be presented on 21 June. Of the 2,557 portraits from 80 countries submitted for judging by a panel including artist Jenny Saville and writer Alan Hollinghurst, three have been shortlisted for the First Prize. They are Cambridgeshire-based Clara Drummond for Girl in a Liberty Dress; Benjamin Sullivan, who lives in Suffolk, for Hugo, his portrait of the poet Hugo Williams; and from China Bo Wang for Silence, a portrait of his dying Grandmother. 

While Clara Drummond has now been selected five times and Benjamin Sullivan 12 times for BP Portrait Award exhibitions, Bo Wang is selected for the first time. He is only the second artist from China to be shortlisted for the First Prize; Clara Drummond and Benjamin Sullivan are also shortlisted for the first time. The world’s most prestigious portrait painting competition, the BP Portrait Award First Prize of £30,000 is one of the largest for any global arts competition. The winner also receives a commission worth £5,000 to paint a portrait for the National Portrait Gallery’s Collection, to be agreed between the Gallery and the artist. 

The Second Prize winner receives £10,000 and the Third Prize winner £8,000. While the competition is open to everyone over the age of 18, for the ninth year there will be a BP Young Artist Award of £7,000 for the work of an entrant aged between 18 and 30. This award winner and the other prize-winners will be announced on the evening of Tuesday 21 June 2016. The portraits go on display to the public at the BP Portrait Award 2016 exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery from 23 June to 4 September 2016.

Clara Drummond (27.09.1977) for Girl in a Liberty Dress (260 x 370 mm, oil on board)

Born in Edinburgh, Cambridgeshire-based Clara Drummond studied modern languages at Cambridge University before going on to study at the Prince’s Drawing School. Her work was selected for the BP Portrait Award in 2006, 2009, 2013 and 2014.  Her portrait of Girl in a Liberty Dress is of her friend, the artist Kirsty Buchanan whom she also painted for her exhibited works in BP Portrait Award in 2013 and 2014. When Kirsty came to sit for Clara she would wear a vintage Liberty dress inspired by the fact that both artists were working with the William Morris Society archive on an exhibition at the time and were looking at the hand drawn patterns for fabrics, wallpapers and tapestries by Jane Morris and May Morris, William Morris’s wife and daughter. Drummond says of Kirsty that ‘she is inspiring because she is always immersed in the ideas around whatever she is making at the time, history, nature, mythology and art all feed into her work, so when I am drawing or painting her it feels more like a collaboration than a portrait sitting.’ Her previous portraits include artist and model Iris Palmer for BP Portrait Award 2009, and her friend, actor Ben Whishaw, from 2005.

Benjamin Sullivan (10.05.1977) for Hugo (460 x 360 mm, oil on canvas)

Grimsby-born Benjamin Sullivan, who lives in Suffolk, gained a BA (Hons) in Drawing and Painting from Edinburgh College of Art. His portrait of Hugo Williams was painted in the study of the poet’s Islington home and Sullivan says the sittings were ‘accompanied by, very loud, Elvis and early Cajun music’. The artist had been

an admirer of Williams’s poetry, especially his Billy’s Rain collection, and after being introduced to him at a private view in 2014 by a friend, the poet Stephen Romer, Williams agreed to sit for a portrait. Sullivan’s work has been seen regularly in the exhibitions of the New English Art Club, the Royal Society of Portrait Painters and he was selected for display 12 times for the BP Portrait Award in 2002, and 2006 to 2015. He has been artist-in-residence at All Soul’s College, Oxford, and the Reform Club, Pall Mall. Sullivan’s portrait of the cosmologist and astrophysicist Professor Martin Rees was commissioned by the National Portrait Gallery.

Bo Wang (03.12.1981) for Silence (100 x 116 mm, tempera on board) 

Chinese artist Bo Wang is a lecturer at Suzhou University of Science and Technology in Jiangsu. He studied at the Ilia Repin St Petersburg Academic Institute for Painting, Sculpture and Architecture and has exhibited at the National Art Museum of China, in Xinjiang, and the Xinjiang International Exhibition Centre. His portrait depicts his grandmother lying on the hospital bed a month before she died, while she was in the terminal stages of cancer and losing her ability to speak. ‘Sometimes she tilted her head and looked at me,’ says Bo Wang. ‘There was too much emotion in her eyes to be expressed in words. I almost forgot about painting techniques or any specific style, just trying to use my brushes to communicate silently with my grandma. I can strongly feel the state of a dying life when I think of her eyes’. Bo Wang says the work of Paul Gauguin is always in his mind when thinking of this portrait especially the artist’s enigmatically titled masterpiece – Where are we from? Who are we? Where shall we go? 

The Portrait Award is now in its 37th year at the National Portrait Gallery and 27th year of sponsorship by BP. This highly successful annual event aims to encourage artists to focus upon, and develop, the theme of painted portraiture within their work. The BP Portrait Award 2015 had 329,556 visitors. The competition was judged from original paintings by: Nicholas Cullinan, Director, National Portrait Gallery, London (Chair); Christopher Baker, Director, Scottish National Portrait Gallery, Edinburgh; Alan Hollinghurst, writer; Sarah Howgate, Contemporary Curator, National Portrait Gallery, London; Jenny Saville, artist; Des Violaris, Director, UK Arts & Culture, BP

Dr Nicholas Cullinan, Chair of Judges and Director, National Portrait Gallery, London, says: ‘It has been a great privilege in my first year as judge of the BP Portrait Award to see so many artists from around the world creating such compelling paintings. The final selection for the exhibition, including this shortlist, brings together some really striking examples of the contemporary portrait.’

Ms Des Violaris, Director, UK Arts and Culture, BP, says: ‘The variety and vitality of the entries and pictures selected for this year’s exhibition show that modern portrait painting continues to be in robust health. And with entries coming from 80 countries, I am particularly pleased that the shortlist has once again proved that this is a truly global competition.’ 

One of the 53 exhibited artists is eligible for the BP Travel Award 2016, an annual award of £6,000, which allows artists to experience working in a different environment on a project related to portraiture. The resulting portraits are shown in the following year’s exhibition. The winner is announced on Tuesday 21 June at a ceremony at the National Portrait Gallery in which the prizes will be presented by Jessica Ennis-Hill. The athlete is represented in the Gallery’s Collection by two photographs by Bettina von Zwehl and Kate Peters.  

The BP Travel Award 2015 was won by French artist Magali Cazo for her proposal to travel to a community of bronze-smelters in Bobo-Dioulasso, Burkina Faso, West Africa. There she has lived with and represented the artists, apprentices and labourers whose lives revolve around the foundry. Magali was inspired by the vivid colours of the landscape, the architecture and the clothes on a previous visit to Bobo-Dioulasso and has used the sketches made on that trip to develop a series of portraits on wood. Magali’s resulting work from her travels this year will be displayed in the BP Portrait Award 2016 exhibition. 

BP PORTRAIT AWARD 2016 AND BP TRAVEL AWARD 2015 23 Jun – 4 Sep 2016, National Portrait Gallery, Admission free supported by BP Press View: 22 June 10am-12pm 


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