Monday, 9 December 2013

Sky Arts 1 Portrait Artist of the Year 2013 – Episodes 4 and 5 - Cardiff and France – Rugby Balls and getting drunk...

Due to various situations beyond my control (sickness, moving office etc), I have had to combine my views on two episodes in this blog (both Cardiff and Paris).


I felt that the Cardiff event proved to be the more problematic of all the sessions filmed around the country. It appeared the theme of the Cardiff programme looked at technique rather than observational qualities and likenesses of the sitters.  So it came as no surprise that the selection of the sculptural, solid work of the rugby player, Gavin Henson, (without his fabulous torso and rugby ball) was selected as the winner.  The Falklands veteran burns victim, Simon Weston proved to be an inspired choice of sitter – his portraits proving to be both colourful and textual.  The third sitter, artist Lucien Freuds model  Sue Tilley, was a further challenge. There is a snippet of the show here:


Paris was much more interesting. The four finalists were taken on what seemed like a mini-Masters Degree course to Paris. Starting with a formal critique (crit) at the Royal Academy in London – it was also interesting to see the finalists other work. I do remember how awful some crits can be at art school – especially when faced with a panel of judges. The remarks appeared appropriate and fair to me, and started to make me think a bit more about how I can get back to my own drawing studies. It was this initial crit that set the theme of the episode - with one memorable piece of advice being given to a particular contestant by Joan Bakewell who advised that he should go and get drunk in Paris. The contestants appeared vulnerable – so the theme was one of apprenticeship and learning.

The sitter was Sophie Dahl – and after the contestants had looked at the various ways of implementing their advice from the crits in London – they produced some difficult work in 6 hours over two days. The pressure looked enormous – and consequently from this experience, I got the impression that the majority of the paintings appeared to be overworked and insecure. I think the judges identified this too.

It’s good to be insecure about your work sometimes, as that means there is room to learn and grow as an artist. I hadn’t done any more self portraits since my own experience submitting my own work to the competition and being short listed for the Glasgow semi final.

So last night, I got out my pencils and had another go. Thinking about my earlier discussions on this blog of notions of 'the gaze', and thinking how I can take my work further myself, I took a cynical view – and thought about my feelings of the Sky Arts experience including reviews of the programme being a place where 'high and low culture can be surprisingly successful'. (Jones,2013)   So instead of focussing on getting a likeness this was my result...

I think if the Sky Arts finalists can let go of the pressure and the obtrusive gaze that is the programmes focus on the artist and their work, then the artist’s relationship with the sitter will be relaxed and should reveal both the artist and the sitter in fabulous paintings. 

 So artists.. yes.. get drunk.. and kick that rugby ball into touch - and do anything else that will release the creative spirit!! 

Ellen E Jones. TV Review. The Independent.  6th Nov 2013

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