As usual the BP Portrait award exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery encompasses a range of styles which either display beautiful traditional painting dexterity or are widely derivative and old fashioned depending on your perspective of what art these days should entail. One of the techniques often used by the finalists (and one that is often divisive) is photorealism. Some regard it as a pointless waste of time, why concentrate so hard on reproducing or copying a photograph? Others think it is a demonstration of skill which adds a quality to the image through the process of rendering it by hand.
Generally I’m not one for straight-up photorealism, though I do like to see skill in paintwork, however skill can be seen in numerous ways, not just the representation of something realistic of course. I also think it is difficult to generalise as some artists are clearly much more successful than others. I am usually more interested in artists that use photorealism to reveal something more complex . A well-known example of this is Gerhard Richter, whose work questions the nature of photography through the process of painting. Others such as Chuck Close are more interested in portraiture and revealing their subject through hyper realistic levels of detail. I find artists such as Damien Hirst’s first studio assistant produced efforts at photorealism and Damien Loebs work considerably less effective. In these cases the realism is more like a cheap form of mimicry, nice enough but with no substantial weight or depth other than the commercial success of a painting style with which people can be easily impressed.
For the BP Portrait Prize what a job it must be for the judges deciding on the Winners. I like what they’ve gone for very much and the runners-up are also well-deserving. However there are a whole load of other works that were probably submitted but we’ll never see. Here’s a few that particularly caught my eye.
Post by Robert Auberon