|National Portrait Gallery entranceway mosaic, 14 June 2011|
All three of the winning paintings pleased the eye and showed impressive ability with the brush. The winning portrait, ‘Distracted’ by the Dutch artist Wim Heldens, was a worthy but rather unassuming head-and-shoulders male portrait that was clearly well-executed but I struggled to see what was particularly special about it. The runner-up, ‘Holly’ by Louis Smith, at least had a certain ‘wow’ factor: the Guardian described it, rather accurately, as ' sweeping canvas, an ornate mock-antique frame and a neo-classical semi-nude reclining sylph adopting one of the traditional nonplussed, recumbent poses so beloved of Victorian and earlier artists, who adored dabbling in classical and Biblical references just as long as it meant they could paint plenty of scantily-clad artists’ models. Ian Cumberland’s third prize winner, ‘Just To Feel Normal’, had the most character of the top three, imbuing the raddled, over-red face of a dropout with a simple, endearing humanity. It combined a
Of the other portraits on display, there was the usual selection of paintings that appealed, paintings that weren’t to my taste, and paintings that I failed to see the point of. I particularly enjoyed Daniel Fooks’ ‘quintych’ – five portraits of the Scottish actor Peter Capaldi (‘The Thick of It’, ‘In The Loop’) – and Edward Sutcliffe’s picture of actress and MP Glenda Jackson, both of which made great use of the character lines in their subjects’ well-lived-in faces. Finally, there was Raoof Haghighi’s ‘Take Me Home’, which was either a cryptic and poetic artistic statement or, more likely I think, just a self-portrait of an artist on his sofa, wearing a silly hat. A small measure of how seriously the artist seems to take himself is the quote attached to the painting, in which he claims the artwork tries to delve into ‘identity and personality that go beyond the scope of the mind and self-realisation or liberation’. Alert Pseud’s Corner immediately!
The free Award exhibition runs until 18 September.