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BP Portrait Award 2012
National Portrait Gallery , London
For thirty-three years, The BP Portrait Award has showcased the very best in contemporary portrait painting from around the world. The exhibition has presented outstanding and innovative new work in a variety of styles and approaches, and it continues to be a highlight of the annual art calendar. This year’s exhibition features fifty-five works, selected from 2,187 international entries as well as being complemented by the BP Portrait Award: Next Generation project.

This award is always one of my favourite annual exhibitions, as it comes with the promise of being amazed by the pure talent some artists of today hold. This year’s third prize went to Alan Coulson’s piece, ‘Richie Culver’, a portrait of a fellow artist and friend of his. He manages to capture a laid back feel within this portrait together with extremely realistic detail. Out of the three finalist pieces this would have been my personal favourite. Second place went to ‘El Abuelo (Augusta Estudillo)’ by Ignacio Estudillo, a portrait of his paternal grandfather. This portrait isn’t as realistic as many of the other compositions within this award; however its build-up of grey scale creates such an intense atmosphere around the only just visible figure. The winner of the award was Aleah Chapin for ‘Auntie’, her portrait is of a close friend of the family and is part of a series of nude portraits of women she has known all of her life. Aleah has managed to draw the attention with incredible paintwork of the body as well as the face; this piece definitely grabs the viewers’ attention and is a worthy winner of 2012.

The portrait award judges may have already picked their own finalists, but to me it is open to the viewer to pick their own favourites. I have narrowed mine down to a shortlist of three, illustrating a mixture of realist to expressionist styles. ‘About Time’ by Toby Mulligan portrays the artist's daughter, Anais. This has a very expressionist style using broken up colourful paint to construct the facial features. I like this piece as it is refreshing to see some colour and spontaneity amongst the sea of meticulous photographic realism that often dominates this award. ‘The Dialects of Silence’ by Colin Davidson is a portrait of the Irish poet, Michael Longley and was made from life. This piece balances out the two parallels of expressionism and realism. Davidson still has a painterly style but with a life-like outcome, as he captures the sitter lost in his thoughts. Antonios Titakis' portrait titled ‘Silent Eyes’ is my favourite piece within this exhibition. This composition is in black and white and is part of a larger body of work, of the artist’s friend Dimitra. This piece impressed me the most due to the sheer size of it; 2,200mm x 1,540mm, also its clever quality of tricking the viewer into thinking it's a photo. You can’t help but admire the amount of skill that goes into a piece that produces such detail and smoothness that it is disguised as a painting.

There is no denying the amount of talent that is shown in the BP Portrait Award 2012. However, I think it becomes a personal experience for each viewer as they choose their own finalists. I would strongly encourage you to go and give this show a visit, as it is guaranteed to impress, even if you don’t know that much about portraiture.

Charlotte Mathias