24 July 2015

Tattoos and Mr. Lopez. The BP Portrait Awards 2015.

'Sebastian' oil on canvas , by Czech painter  Jan Mikulka. 70x100cm

 Today was a very rainy day here in London. So after running a few errands I was on my way to make a few gallery visits. We visited the White Cube in Bermondsey with it's usual collection of massive art where the only mystery is how do they move it around and how much did it cost to build. Took us all of five minutes so back in the rain we went. Our last stop was at the BP Portrait Award  show currently displayed at the National Portrait Gallery. One thing I really like about this show is that it takes chances and  it selects a great variety of styles within a strict definition of painting. Moreover, it doesn't shun figurative artwork or traditional skill. What are they thinking!?

Like last year, why the first prize went to the painting it went to will remain a mystery to me. I thought it was a-ok, a bit uneven, miming photography and uninteresting despite the pretense that it was inspired by a biblical passage or something lofty like that. Oh well.

 My favorite piece was the beautiful portrait of a man in the forest by Jan Mikulka, pictured above. The visitors consistently vote him as a favorite but no prize this year. I think he already won one in a previous edition.

The second prize was the stunner below, very Dutch, timeless. Quite beautiful and executed with the precision required when one attempts to go for it and make things hyper-realistic... or bust. Moreover, it doesn't have the tired rendering of every nook and cranny so typical of hyper-realistic paintings, it leaves room to breathe despite accounting for every hair. 

 ' Eliza' by Michael Gaskell (b.1973)   370 x 270mm, acrylic on board. 2nd Prize.

"My mother and my brother on a Sunday evening". Borja Buces Renard (b. 1978) oil on canvas, 1500x2000mm
Every year there has been an increased presence of Spanish artists and some of them are excellent so it is quite natural that the Third Prize went to the one pictured above. It wasn't my favorite painting of the 'Spanish group', to give it a name, but it had nice dissolving edges and directness.

And now for the rant: Why so many portraits with tattoos? No, not that one. 

It seems to me that the abundant presence of Spanish painters and the clear ambition of many of their canvases indicates a lack, rather than an abundance, of venues and conduits in my native country. These painters are here in London because Madrid and Barcelona and every other town in between must  not be offering the market and the livelihood some of these artists would want and aspire to. Where is the Spanish National Portrait Gallery? Where are the monetary awards? True, Spain is going through a Greek-like financial debacle right now. Can it be that simple? I suppose it can but shouldn't there be  more Italians or Greeks as well?.

 It is great that these artists are seeking international exposure. Being myself a product of an art school in Madrid, either these gals and guys must have put great effort into surmounting the dismal quality of art schooling in Spain  or the schools have changed dramatically.  May be they were left with the only option: To look  at the masters they had around, quixotic as that may be. Except  in this case they all happened to pick the same one.

It's quite clear that the shadow of Antonio López looms large in current Spanish figurative painting, may be too large. Invariably, all the portraits from Spain had that bleak,  underwear-and-socks, asylum lighting and morbid look that López mastered. Don't get me wrong, I love love love Antonio López and he is himself following a  tradition of austere and matter-of-fact art that is oh-so-very Spanish but the portraits here presented could almost be authored interchangeably. That doesn't make them bad but it is hard to believe that some of these artists are really looking for a unique voice. Take a a look:

"Natalia" Jorge Abad-Jaime De Aragón. (oil on canvas)
"The Red Chair" Maria Carbonell. (b. 1980) oil on canvas.

"Back Portrait n8" Daniel Coves. Oil on canvas.
"Juanito" Jose Luis Corella.  Oil on board.

"Rocío, desnudo sobre alfombra" Eduardo Millán (oil on canvas)

Odd, isn't it ? They are not even from the same city and yet they all share an uncanny family resemblance. Of all the Spanish paintings, my favorite without a doubt had to be this one. There were many worthy pictures to be seen here and, as a visitor, you won't leave without some nifty ideas about where to place your next tattoo.