Wednesday, 8 March 2017

The Big Painting Challenge Series Two Week Four

It’s OK painting flowers, violent waves in seascapes and exotic wildlife in the zoo, the hardest task in painting is to capture a likeness and personality of a person sitting in front of you. Because the face aids recognition for the viewer the artist has to get not only all the wrinkles, the dimples and the freckles to help identify them but also the right skin tone and personal expression. It’s not easy! 

I feared for the seven artists left for Portrait Week. Two of them will be leaving so the pressure is on. The venue for the two tasks is the National Portrait Gallery in London. I have been at Tate Britain, Tate Modern and the V&A but oddly enough never here despite it being sited on Trafalgar Square. I have stood on its steps with Kris, Grace and Wai Moi and ventured inside to use its toilets but I don’t think I have walked around the galleries. Now if it had rained I might have been inquisitive enough. I have no idea why I’m such a cultural nomark!

Was reading online last week that Jennifer has a first class honours from the Art College in Belfast and has led art residency programmes here in Northern Ireland which hardly makes her an amateur. Does she tick the box ‘single mother’? ‘Irish’? and Ruaridh, (who also has a degree in Fine Art), ‘deaf’? and ‘Scottish’? So why are they on the show when there are probably hundreds of more deserving and truly amateur artists out there watching in TVLand? Going to art college should never disqualify you from entering a competition like this however! Very few students in graphic design/ceramics/product design/textiles/photography courses get anywhere near a paintbrush or a chance to work in oils and acrylics. I know I only picked up a paintbrush, for the first time since A Levels, a few weeks ago! But going to Art College and getting a degree from a Fine Art course should raise at least some eyebrows at the BBC. If the programme does come back for another series I hope they would adopt a more informed approach to selection.

Blimey have just read that Camilla dishes out art advice on her YouTube Painting Channel! 

Self Portraits (click to see bigger)
Ruaridh's self portrait (click to see bigger)
So what happened this week? The first challenge is a two-hour self-portrait using a medium sized mirror beside the art easel. How daunting is that! I felt sorry for the Scots,  Jimmy and Ruaridh as they wore glasses and as I suspected both were rather hesitant to include them in the finished canvas. Pascal leaned on Ruaridh to include them while Jimmy, a self-acclaimed portrait artist ran scared and found other things to touch up. It has to be said it didn’t really look like him without them. Alan did well with a very limited, almost monochrome palette which meant it looked more like a sketch than a painting.  David achieved a great likeness  despite a wonky eye, and for me did the best in this task. Ruaridh I felt did the least convincing male self-portrait. His neck was ridiculed by Lachlan as being spam-like. Charming. I felt his proportions were out. And what of the three women left? Suman painted well but didn’t get a good likeness, Angela had red cheeks and grew a moustache, while Jennifer for a reasonably attractive young lass painted herself dog ugly as if seared by a nuclear explosion. Oops is that politically correct and fair to dogs? Daphne summed it up best: “In terms of us knowing it was you it’s failed really abysmally and the proportions are just dire”

Sitters Baroness Floella Benjamin and Angela Rippon CBE
The five-hour Showstopper meant the artists had two sitters. I had heard of BBC newsreader Angela Rippon CBE but Baroness Floella Benjamin was unknown to me. I googled her while watching the show and discovered she was a jill of all trades: actress, author, television presenter, singer, businesswoman and politician who somehow had escaped my attention all these years. Sad to say I missed Play School in 1976!!! And all of her Jackanory appearances.

The portraiture showstopper was all about resemblance and making the painting look like the person. It was also about composition and how much of the sitter you should include to capture their elegance. 

Sitter portraits (click to see bigger)
So who caught something of the sitters? For some unexplained reason David thought this was the ideal time to use a palette knife for the first time. Lachlan I thought was being mischievous when he said he didn’t recognise Angela Rippon in David’s painting at all. I think the BBC should book him into Supersavers immediately! Thankfully Daphne disagreed with her fellow judge and that started a debate about what makes a good portrait. Lachlan did see more of a likeness of the ex-newsreader in Suman’s effort though like me he saw Anthea Turner too. Ruaridh’s painting looked as if Angela needed to go on a Slimming World course. The best likenesses for me were in Floella’s camp. Alan surprised me with his work - great likeness just made her about ten years older than she actually was. Jimmy did quite a good graphic representation of the baroness and included a few symbolic features. Jennifer for the first time in the series listened to the judges advice, was less abstract and demonstrated that she could observe and draw. What a difference! While I wouldn’t have marked her as highly as the others she did deserve to stay in the process for that progress alone. Angela made Floella look quite gaunt and sick and she and Ruaridh were the two asked to pack their bags and leave. I thought David was the best this week but it was Suman for the second week running who picked up the immunity card from the public.

Have I spotted a winner yet? The smart money would probably be on Suman as she’s on a roll, David is technically good while Jennifer would be a dark horse but she’s marmite. She needs to think less about selling herself and her ideas and more about what the brief is. I don’t think Alan and Jimmy have any chance. 

Next week’s task appeared to be all about movement as the closing credits showed ballerinas dancing across the floor.


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