Promoting the very best in contemporary portrait painting, the bp Portrait Award is the unmissable highlight of the annual arts calendar. Over the years it has attracted entries from more than 100 countries, launched the careers of many highly successful portrait artists and been seen for free by over 6 million people. In 2016 we announced a further renewal of our partnership with the National Portrait Gallery until 2022 – ensuring that many more people will have access to the best of the UK's culture well into the future.
The total prize money increased to £74,000 in 2018. This makes the first prize worth £35,000 – one of the largest for any global arts competition. The winner also receives, at the Gallery's discretion, a commission worth £7,000 (agreed between the National Portrait Gallery and the artist). The second prize winner receives £12,000 and a third prize of £10,000 is also awarded. The bp Young Artist Award, with a prize of £9,000 goes to one selected artist aged between 18 and 30. The bp Travel Award, which allows an artist to experience working in a different environment on a project related to portraiture, is £8,000.
This year’s bp Portrait Award winners are especially remarkable. It is the first time any of the artists have been shortlisted for the Award or selected for the exhibition. Additionally, it is the first year the bp Portrait Award exhibition has been opened online on the National Portrait Gallery’s website while the gallery in London was closed first due to the Covid-19 pandemic and now for renovations. It was extremely popular receiving 277,000 views by people from 135 countries. The full exhibition can be seen in person at Aberdeen Art Gallery from 10 October 2020 to 24 January 2021.
The prestigious first prize went to Jiab Prachakul for Night Talk, which depicts her close friends – Jeonga Choi, a designer from Korea, and Makoto Sakamoto, a music composer from Japan – in a Berlin bar. The judges thought the work was ‘an evocative portrait of a fleeting moment in time, giving us a glimpse into someone else’s life that is beautiful, mysterious and alive. It is loosely painted and the bold composition makes clever use of contrasting shapes.’
Born in Nakhon Phanom, in northeast Thailand, Prachakul relocated to London in 2006 where she realised that she wanted to be an artist after attending the David Hockney exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery. Entirely self-taught, her work has been seen in solo exhibitions in the UK, Germany and France. This is the first time she has been selected for the bp Portrait Award exhibition.
Second prize went to Russian artist Sergey Svetlakov for Portrait of Denis: Actor, Juggler and Fashion Model. The judges said the work ‘was a timeless study showing devotion to detail and a connection between painter and subject. Tenderly observed, and unfussy, the thickly applied, re-worked paint skilfully describes the passage of time throughout the painting’s gestation.’
The third prize went to Michael Youds, a gallery attendant at the National Galleries of Scotland, for his portrait Labour of Love depicting Tommy Robertson, the owner of an independent music store in Edinburgh. The judges thought that his portrait was ‘both poignant and funny. It definitely struck a chord as an allegory for a time and place that already feels nostalgic.’
The bp Young Artist Award for the work of a selected entrant aged between 18 and 30 has been won by Dutch artist Egbert Modderman for Restless, which depicts the Old Testament figure of Eli. The judges said the portrait was ‘highly accomplished. It combines the strong and striking composition with a surprising sense of immediacy.’
The works of all 48 prize winners in the bp Portrait Award 2020 are on display in a virtual gallery space that replicates the rooms of the National Portrait Gallery, enabling online visitors to view the portraits collectively, read the labels and gain insights from the artists, as well as explore each individual work in more detail. The popular Visitor’s Choice feature, which offers the public the opportunity to vote for their favourite portrait, will also run online.
Jiab Prachakul was born in in 1979 in Nakhon Phanom, a small town on the Mekong River in northeast Thailand. She studied filmography at Thammasat University before working as a casting director at a Bangkok production company, finding talent for advertising campaigns. In 2006, Prachakul relocated to London where she had the ‘instant realisation’ that she wanted to be an artist after viewing a David Hockney retrospective at the National Portrait Gallery. Entirely self-taught, she moved to Berlin in 2008 and began selling her pictures at a local flea market and set up an online fashion brand, designing merchandise based on her artworks, which she continues to run from her current home in Lyon.
Night Talk portrays Prachakul’s close friends Jeonga Choi, a designer from Korea, and Makoto Sakamoto, a music composer from Japan, who are pictured in a Berlin bar on an autumn evening. The portrait explores notions of individual identity and how perceptions of selfhood can change over time. ‘Our identity is dictated to us from the moment we are born, but as we grow up, identity is what we actually choose to be,’ she says. ‘I do believe that our circle of friends is what makes us who we are. Jeonga and Makoto are like family to me. We are all outsiders, Asian artists living abroad, and their deep friendship has offered me a ground on where I can stand and embrace my own identity.’
Sergey Svetlakov was born in 1961 in Kazan, the capital city of what is now the Republic of Tatarstan in the Russian Federation. He graduated from the Kazan Art School, one of the oldest in Russia, before studying set design at the Theatre Academy in St Petersburg where he continues to live and work. His early career was spent designing sets and costumes for operas and stage productions. In the early 1990s, he gave up working in theatre to devote all his energies to his portraiture, nude studies and still life, and he has since exhibited widely across Europe, the US and Japan.
Svetlakov finds many of his sitters on the internet, including Denis, the subject of his entry in the 2020 bp Portrait Award. An aspiring actor, Denis had recently arrived in St Petersburg and placed an advertisement on a social network site offering his services as a model in order to earn extra money. ‘My sitters are usually ordinary people with various types of social backgrounds,’ says Svetlakov.
‘Because Denis is an actor, he is very emotional and his face constantly changes depending on his mood. When I painted him he was desperately searching for work and I found it interesting to convey his intense ambitions and doubts. His face is an explosive fusion of his Ukrainian, Russian, Greek and Tatar genes.’
Born in 1982 in Blackburn, Lancashire, Michael Youds gained a first-class degree in Fine Art from Lancaster University before moving to Edinburgh in 2006. Youds works as a gallery attendant at the National Galleries of Scotland, he is also an award-winning artist in his own right and devotes most of his free time to painting portraits and still lifes at his studio in the city. His work has been selected for exhibitions at the Royal Scottish Academy and the Royal Society of Portrait Painters. In 2019, he won first prize in the Scottish Portrait Awards for a painting of him and his twin brother David, who is also an artist.
The subject of his entry in the 2020 bp Portrait Award is Tommy Robertson, the owner of an independent music store in Edinburgh. The store has been in business for more than three decades, selling second-hand records, instruments and video games, and Youds wanted to celebrate its eclectic individuality. ‘It’s a very detailed painting,’ he says, ‘I wanted the viewer to feel like they are inside the shop and maybe a little overwhelmed, not knowing what to focus their attention on. Visually, Tommy is engaging and the background is equally interesting. You could probably find something different in the painting each time you looked at it.’ The title Labour of Love refers to the UB40 album cover in the bottom left hand corner of the painting. It also reflects Tommy’s passion for music and the time Youds spent working on the painting.
Born in Heerenveen, the Netherlands, in 1989, Egbert Modderman studied at the Minerva Art Academy and Visual Arts in Groningen. He started painting professionally four years ago after being invited by the city’s Martinikerk (Martin’s Church) to paint a depiction of Saint Martin. Modderman was raised in a Reformed family and his Christian heritage provides the foundation for his large-scale oil paintings portraying characters and stories from the Bible.
Restless depicts the Old Testament figure of Eli, a high priest punished by God for failing to restrain his wayward sons. ‘Eli is one of the Bible’s more tragic figures,’ Modderman says. ‘He is unable to sleep because he is so tormented. I wanted to show that tension in his face and create an emotion that lies somewhere between regret, fear and sorrow.’ Modderman recruited a local bricklayer, Oetze Veenstra, to pose as his model after he spotted him working in his neighbourhood. ‘I try to find the model that gives me the right feeling, whether it’s a friend or a stranger,’ he explains. ‘Oetze had the weary look that I sought as the emotional baseline of the figure.’
The winner of the bp Travel Award 2019 was Manu Saluja for her proposal to create portraits of volunteers working in the vast communal kitchen at The Golden Temple in Amritsar, India. The resulting work was displayed online in the bp Portrait Award 2020 exhibition.
The bp Portrait Award 2020 received 1,981 entries from 69 countries. Judged anonymously, 48 portraits were then selected.
This exciting project, now in its eleventh year, offers free opportunities for young people to learn from bp Portrait Award artists and develop their creative skills around portraiture.
The usual workshops, summer school, young people’s private view of the bp Portrait Award and other events were cancelled this year due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Instead, the activities went online with creative ideas from three artists, a vast library of films showing artists talking about their work as portrait painters and the opportunity to post creative work on social platforms.