Art Review: BP Portrait Award @ National Portrait Gallery

Every year the BP portrait award assembles what it considers to be the best in contemporary portrait painting from around the world. From more than 2,000 entrants in this year’s competition, 55 have been selected for display at the exhibition, with four shortlisted and one overall winner.

As with any competition, every visitor will have a different view on who should have won. Our favourite is Ruth Murray’s heavily textured clay heads as they sit on a table, looming over Murray’s little sister who sits beneath them. Her defensive pose suggests she’s their prisoner.

Many techniques are on display, from the over-exaggerated features of the customers at Mr Kitazawa’s Noodle Bar to a startlingly photorealistic portrait by Antonios Titakis.

There’s no doubt that every artist on display is highly talented, but there’s disappointingly little in the way of new and exciting approaches. Ignacio Estudillo does a great job of portraying an elderly man who has just awoken, with our view of him as if we’ve also freshly woken. But this unique take is in short supply as many of the artworks offer nothing that you won’t have seen in hundreds of portraits before. Considering that there are many exciting up-and-coming contemporary portraitists out there, roughly half the selection isn’t very adventurous.

Overall, the level of ability on display is excellent with some notable new artists, but this exhibition would have benefited from a bit more dare.

The BP Portrait Award 2012 is on display at the National Portrait Gallery until 23 September. Admission is free.

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