Funny portraits. From a homeless man to a reluctant granny. BP Portrait Award 2014

Funny portraits. From a homeless man to a reluctant granny. BP Portrait Award 2014
Yareah Magazine


In a record-breaking year for entries, three artists have been short-listed for the twenty-fifth anniversary BP Portrait Award 2014 at the National Portrait Gallery, London. Their sitters are a homeless man in Germany who earns money by cleaning car windscreens, an American woman who was reluctant to sit for a portrait painted by her son, and the Bath-based grandmother and model featured in Channel Four’s Fabulous Fashionistas.

Funny portraits. From a homeless man to a reluctant granny. BP Portrait Award 2014

Letter to my Mom by David Jon Kassan © David Jon Kassan

One of the world’s most prestigious art competitions, the First Prize was increased last year by £5,000 to £30,000 making the prize one of the largest for any global arts competition. The winner also receives a commission to paint a portrait for the National Portrait Gallery’s permanent collection worth £5,000, to be agreed between the Gallery and the artist.

The Second Prize winner will receive £10,000 and the Third Prize winner £8,000. While the competition is open to everyone over the age of 18, for the seventh year there will be a BP Young Artist Award of £7,000 for the work of an entrant aged between 18 and 30. This award winner and the other prize-winners will be announced on the evening of Tuesday 24 June 2014. The portraits go on display to the public at the BP Portrait Award 2014 exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery from 26 June to 21 September 2014.

The three artists shortlisted for the 2014 BP Portrait Award 2013 are Thomas Ganter for Man with a Plaid Blanket, David Kassan for Letter to my Mom and Richard Twose for Jean Woods.

Funny portraits. From a homeless man to a reluctant granny. BP Portrait Award 2014

Jean Woods by Richard Twose © Richard Twose

Thomas Ganter (26.03.1974) for Man with a Plaid Blanket (160 x 60 cm oil on canvas.)

Thomas Ganter is an artist and illustrator from Frankfurt/Main, Germany. His shortlisted portrait of Karel, a homeless man he encountered following a visit to a museum, invites the viewer to contemplate the coexistence of wealth and poverty. ‘After being in a museum, I saw a homeless man and was stunned by a similarity: the clothes, the pose, and other details resembled what I just saw in various paintings. However, this time I was looking at a homeless person wrapped in a blanket and not at the painting of a saint or noble in their elaborate garment. By portraying a homeless man in a manner reserved for nobles or saints, I tried to emphasise that everyone deserves respect and care. Human dignity shouldn’t be relative or dependent on socio-economic status’. Karel, who tries to earn some money by cleaning car windscreens in the artist’s neighbourhood, attended five sittings for the portrait. After these, in which the head and the hands were painted, Ganter used a life-sized doll, and painted the clothes and the blanket before finally adding the artificial flower at the bottom right.

David Jon Kassan (25.02.1977) for Letter to my Mom (124.5 x 81 cm oil on aluminium panel.)

Brooklyn-based artist David Jon Kassan, born in Little Rock, Arkansas, invited his mother and father to sit for him in his studio in New York City while his parents made a brief stop on their way to Europe. He had painted his mother a few years before, and he says she was reluctant to sit for him again, saying in order to persuade her, he had to bribe her by offering her a painting of his son Lucas. ‘My work is very personal and heartfelt,’ he says. ‘It’s my visual diary, so my family and loved ones make up a large part of what and why I paint. My parents have always been inspirational to paint. This portrait is a letter to my mom, who hates it when I paint her. But I tell her in the painting that by painting her, it is my way of spending time with her, contemplating our relationship and time together, my earliest memories’. The Hebrew text painted onto the portrait above the sitter reads: ‘Dear Mom,/ This painting is my way to spend more time with you./ My way to meditate on our life together./ And all of the earliest memories I have/All of my earliest memories from you’.

Funny portraits. From a homeless man to a reluctant granny. BP Portrait Award 2014

Man with a Plaid Blanket by Thomas Ganter © Thomas Ganter

Richard Twose (01.04.1963) for Jean Woods (90 x 60 cm oil on board.)

The first time Richard Twose, a teacher and artist, saw the sitter of his portrait, Jean Woods, was when she was working in a shop in Bath, the British city where he is based. He was impressed not only by her striking looks and contemporary, edgy style, but also by the depth of character in her face. Following the broadcast of Channel Four’s documentary Fabulous Fashionistas which featured Jean, Richard’s daughter told him she was the grandmother of a friend. After calling her and asking her to sit for him, he was struck by her professionalism as a sitter –derived from her recent experience as a fashion model and from a quality of stillness she seems to possess naturally. ‘Sometimes as Jean was talking, especially about her much-missed late husband, she reminded me of Rembrandt’s Portrait of Margaretha de Geer, says Richard. ‘Jean has a similar intensity and honesty in her gaze. I wanted to capture that sense of someone who has learnt to be almost fearless, looking forward to life still but with a great richness of experience behind her’.

This year the competition received a record-breaking 2,377 entries from 71 different countries, up from 1,969 entries from 77 different countries last year. 55 portraits have been selected for the exhibition (National Portrait Gallery, London, 26 June – 21 September 2014).

The Portrait Award is now in its 35th year at the National Portrait Gallery and 25th year of sponsorship by BP. This highly successful annual event aims to encourage artists to focus upon, and develop, the theme of painted portraiture within their work. The BP Portrait Award 2013 had 285,514 visitors.

The competition was judged from original paintings by: Sandy Nairne, Director, National Portrait Gallery (Chair); Sarah Howgate, Contemporary Curator, National Portrait Gallery; Dr Alexander Sturgis, Director of the Holburne Museum, Bath; Joanna Trollope, Writer; Des Violaris, Director, UK Arts and Culture, BP; Jonathan Yeo, Artist

Sandy Nairne, Director, National Portrait Gallery, London, says: ‘The work of these 2014 BP short-listed artists exemplifies another outstanding year of contemporary portrait painting, with excellent entries from around the world.’

Des Violaris, Director, UK Arts and Culture, BP, says: ‘I am always thrilled by the quality of work selected for the BP Portrait Award exhibition and in this very special twenty-fifth anniversary year we have an inspiring shortlist of portraits of startling depth and compassion not just from the UK but further afield.’

One of the 55 exhibited artists will also be eligible for the BP Travel Award 2014an annual award of £6,000, which allows artists to experience working in a different environment on a project related to portraiture. The resulting portraits are displayed in the following year’s exhibition. The winner will also be announced on Tuesday 24 June.


The BP Travel Award 2013 was won by Bristol-based Dutch Artist Sophie Ploeg. Having studied Art & Architectural History at universities in The Netherlands, Ploeg, 39, won last year for her proposal to explore how fashion and lace was represented in 17th century art, as well as in modern applications. She has visited famous lace-making centres such as Bruges in Belgium and Honiton in Devon, modern lace makers and artists, antique lace collections and 17th century art collections, and has undertaken literary research. Sophie’s final work is inspired by her findings and will be on show as part of the BP Portrait Award 2014 exhibition.


26 June – 21 September 2014, National Portrait Gallery, London, Admission free

Supported by BP Exhibition Press View: Wednesday 25 June 10am-12pm.


The exhibition will tour to Sunderland Museum and Winter Gardens (4 October, 2014 – 16 November, 2014) and The Scottish National Portrait Gallery (28 November – 12 April, 2015.)


A fully-illustrated catalogue accompanies the exhibition and features an introductory essay by Julia Donaldson. The BP Portrait Award 2014 book will be published on 25 June 2014, and will include over 55 colour illustrations, price £9.99 (pbk).


The National Portrait Gallery will be working with children’s picture book illustrator Jenni Desmond, whose new book The Zebra Who Ran Too Fast is out early July from Walker Books, to produce drawings for a free family trail and a number of special exhibition labels that will offer a range of creative activities throughout the duration of the BP Portrait Award 2014.


BP Portrait Award: Next Generation is an exciting project opening up free opportunities for 14-19 year-olds to creatively engage with painted portraiture through the BP Portrait Award. For the fifth year, young people will be able to connect with past BP Portrait Award-winning artists, meet other young people interested in portraiture and create their own portraits through a series of programmes including Taster Sessions, Drop-in Drawing, three-day Summer Schools, the second after-hours Young People’s Private View, an onsite display showcasing the project, and youth-generated digital content including video interviews with artists and participants. BP Portrait Award: Next Generation has so far engaged over one thousand young people, onsite and regionally. More details of 2014 programmes will be announced in May.


Total number of entrants 2,377 (UK Entries 1, 490, International Entries 887)


England (33), Spain (5), Scotland (3), USA (3), Netherlands (2), Canada (2), Germany (2), Belgium (1), Poland (1), Romania (1), Serbia (1), Sweden (1)

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