BP Portrait Award Shortlist 2011 Announced

Why the BP Portrait Prize has gone downhill 

Every year the National Portrait Gallery in London holds a portrait painting competition. This year more than 50 portraits have been selected for the annual event at  London’s NPG. The competition is currently sponsored by BP (British Petroleum), the award is known as the BP Portrait award. The competition offers a substantial cash prize prize (£25,000) plus the winner will receive a commission worth £4,000. Smaller awards for second, third, and fourth prizes and £5,000 is also awarded to a young entrant aged between 18-30. As part of the award lineup a travel award is given to one artist to provide an opportunity to work on portraiture in a new environment. Paintings done as a result of the travel award are exhibited at the following year’s BP Portrait Award. The rules were changed not so long ago to remove the age restriction of 40, which also opened the competition to any artist anywhere in the world who is aged at least 18 years of age. Employees of the National Portrait Gallery, BP, “their agents”, and previous first prize-winners of the BP Portrait Award are not allowed to enter.

Gallery director Sandy Nairne said: “The diversity of styles in the shortlisted portraits and the skill of the works selected from this record entry to the BP Portrait Award show how contemporary portraiture remains an energetic and telling force.”

This year the competition offers a diverse selection of work including an eight-foot high portrait of a nude model handcuffed to a rock by Louis Smith. This slightly misogynistic  and clearly kitsch artwork looks more like fantasy art than what I would call fine art.  I think the quality of this event must be questioned if the selection committee has allowed work of this type to be introduced into the competition.The artist stated that “Holly was inspired by the Greek myth of Prometheus, a message of composure in the face of adversity”. It has never the less made it into the shortlist. along with Ian Cumberland, Wim Heldens and Sertan Saltan for the £25,000 prize. 

The four shortlisted artists are, Ian Cumberland  “Just to Feel Normal”, Wim Heldens  “Distracted”, Sertan Saltan “Mrs Cerna” and Louis Smith for “Holly”, as well as the BP Travel Award 2010 winner, Florence-based American artist Paul Beel, who travelled to Corfu to paint a large-scale, plein-air group portrait of figures on a secluded nudist beach.

The prize winner will be announced on 14 June.