We hope you enjoy reading about the artists’ inspirations and experiences behind their prize-winning paintings and are able to enrich your knowledge about their creative processes. This is part two of the stories behind the prize-winning works. The exhibition is on until Saturday 14th May, and we hope you are able to visit in person!
The Burke’s Peerage Foundation Award for Classically Inspired Portraiture: Frances Bell ‘Gillian’
Frances described the relationship between her and Gillian, and how she goes about capturing a sense of likeness in a portrait; ‘Gillian is a previous client of mine. I’ve painted her sons before, and this was a birthday present from her husband to her. I have also painted Gillian before for her mother, riding my horse sidesaddle! So we had a previous connection of working well on portraits.’
‘I’m a great believer in having sittings from life. I had Gillian for 2 long sittings. We chatted away all the time - I wanted her to look natural and engaged so conversation is vital to getting an expression that represents her character and vivacity.’
In ‘Gillian’ I was struck by Frances’ use of light and ability to create varied textured surfaces within her brushwork and asked if she was able to comment on this further. Frances said: ‘I love fabric textures, almost as much as colours. This is a tonally narrow band of values - it’s all pale. I did, however, have silk which is strewn with highlights and soft wool which is entirely without highlights, it’s matte. So it was an enjoyable exercise chasing the opportunities to find excitement within the fabric.’
The Ondaatje Prize for Portraiture: Lantian D ‘Man and a Window’
Lantian described what draws her to portraiture, and spoke about the creative process behind ‘Man And A Window’: ‘I’m drawn to portraiture because of a natural tendency to reflect on our own being and to understand ourselves. To quote Lucian Freud, ‘Painters who deny themselves the representation of life and limit their language to purely abstract forms are depriving themselves of the possibility of provoking more than aesthetic emotion.’ But for ‘portraiture’ to exist in the 21st century, mimesis alone is not enough. My aim is poiesis.’
“Man and a Window” belongs to my series ‘Hortus Conclusus’ (Latin: Enclosed Garden), which is my journey as a modern individual in search of a soul. To paint is to understand the world through understanding oneself. My work is autobiographical and I extract and recompose models, my life and the world I’m in, transforming them into a deep well of meaning that if put into words, becomes misrepresented.
‘The Man’ in the piece was my lover at the time, and I was his ‘Window’. I was inspired by COVID lockdowns, millions isolated and confined. The pandemic has magnified causes of our ‘existential crisis’, and the way people are afflicted by debilitating feelings of insignificance, inadequacy and hopelessness. This social narrative, paralleled with the hopeless situation of my love affair and my own disturbed and confined upbringing, led to ‘Man and a Window’.
I also asked Lantian about her considered use of empty space and composition. She said she focuses on duality and borders, two essential conditions of being. In ‘Man and a Window’ she expressed opposite elements - individual versus mass, interior versus exterior, silence versus words, warm versus cold, passion versus calculation, liberty versus security and man versus window. To bring out these dualities, she exaggerated certain elements such as the windows’ reflection in the floor and eliminated other elements such as the man’s mouth to bring out impotence, vulnerability and silence, in turn emphasising ‘looking’ and the ‘window’.
Lantian was delighted to win the Ondaatje prize for the second time. Her series ‘Hortus Conclusus’ has 33 paintings, and she hopes to continue to develop the series and organise solo exhibitions of the project.
The RP Award: Nneka Uzoigwe ‘Narcissus’
Nneka’s self portrait depicts the story of Narcissus. Nneka explains that in the myth, Narcissus sees his reflection in a pool of water and, unable to tear himself away, he slowly dies. A daffodil ‘narcissus’ springs up in his place. In Nneka’s painting, Narcissus is a Dryad-like creature, half daffodil, half man. Nneka explains she has painted herself, symbolised as a pool of water by the swirling waves of her Hokusai robe, as she lowers thread from a golden pool to Narcissus’ reflection. His reflection entices him with the thread to pull him into the pool, with a humorous nod to the idea of an artist spending weeks starting into their own reflection when creating a self portrait.
When asked about her feelings on self portraits Nneka said ‘I love using myself as a model, as when I’m painting myself it feels like I have all the time in the world. It gives me a quiet space to day dream and further develop ideas onto the canvas as they happen. I spend a lot of time not painting and staring at the canvas. With self portraits, I paint them at home, as I tend to work on them every day for weeks, from dawn to dusk.’ She then added that Dorothea Tanning, Antonio Mancini and George Watts are the artists she is most inspired by.
As for her advice to other portrait Nneka says: ‘Don’t talk yourself out of flights of imagination, as naïve as they might seem, as they are in fact the seeds of individuality. Trust your technical ability to not just copy what’s in front of you, but create new ways of seeing.’
The Prince of Wales’s Award for Portrait Drawing: Thomas Arthurton ‘Portrait Study’
Thomas’ drawing has a great sense of reflection. I asked Thomas about the story behind the work: ‘Galina was an elderly woman I came to know in St Petersburg. As I drew she talked of life growing up in the former Soviet Union. She had experienced harsh conditions and this was reflected in her skin which showed an interesting radiance. I captured this by using my fingers to smudge the graphite and hatching, whilst taking the opportunity to create a loose, painterly and relaxed drawing. Galina maintained a strong faith in humanity which I found inspiring. Hers was one of the last drawings I undertook before I had to leave Russia.’
I also asked Thomas if he has any advice for emerging artists or recent graduates to which he said: ‘Draw, draw, draw and be free! I enjoy making quick drawings on the underground. You never know how long you have to capture the passenger’s most distinctive features before they are up and gone!’
We hope reading about the artists' stories behind their works has inspired you! If you haven't already done so, make sure to check out part one to learn about the other prize-winning works within the exhibition!