Thursday, November 16, 2017

Breach of rules - Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize 2017

This is about a competition where the organisers and Jury allowed an entry which breached the rules to remain in the competition and win two prizes.

One of the things I do when writing about art competitions is I aim to make the process more accessible for those wanting to enter and further their careers and/or achievements.

To that end I do three things:
  • I aim to unpick and make the call for entries a bit more accessible for people entering for the first time
  • I try to show those thinking about entering what the standard of work is in the exhibition - and the competition they're up against.
I've had much praise over the years from people around the world for making that effort - which is NOT why I do it - but it's always nice to know that my efforts are appreciated.

The third thing I do is the subject of this blog post.

Basically, I speak up for those who may feel they maybe can't when things happen which really shouldn't happen in terms of the conduct of the competition.

I don't like doing this - but I do think it's necessary.

This post is about how to undermine confidence in competitions 
  • BY allowing an entry which breaches the rules to remain in the competition 
  • AND win not one but two prizes!

One of Them Is a Human #1 (Erica: Erato Ishiguro Symbiotic Human-Robot Interaction Project) by Maija Tammi

Maija Tammi's project, One of Them Is a Human #1, is a series of photographs that places androids alongside one human, asking what it means to be alive.

A photo of an android was submitted as an entry into the Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize 2017

The portrait is not of a human, but the National Portrait Gallery decided to keep it in the competition anyway. In a statement they say (my bold):
The Gallery has decided not to disqualify this portrait though accepts it is in breach of the rules. The rules are reviewed every year and this issue will be taken into consideration for next year. This portrait was part of 'One of Them Is a Human #1', a broader series which presents androids alongside one human. It was felt that the subject of this portrait, while not human, is a representation of a human figure and makes a powerful statement as a work of art in its questioning of what it is to be alive or human and asks challenging questions about portraiture. The ambiguity of this portrait makes it particularly compelling.

We review the competition rules each year and as part of this will discuss whether they need to be changed in light of the selection of 'One of Them Is a Human #1' for this year’s exhibition. The Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize is dedicated to showcasing the best in contemporary portraiture. There are occasions when particularly compelling portraits raise interesting questions about the genre of portraiture, and these may be included at the judges’ discretion
The Judges also shortlisted the photograph which then went on to win
  • the third prize of £2,000
  • the John Kobal New Work Award and a £5,000 prize for a photographer under 35.
Maija Tammi with her awards
So a total of £7,000 (presumably in part funded by competition entry fees) was awarded for an entry which breached the rules and was ineligible for entry.

I'll now go on to explain why, in my opinion, this should not have happened.

Leonardo da Vinci sets new record for the most expensive painting ever sold at auction

The auction sale of Leonardo da Vinci's Salvator Mundi at Christies New York yesterday is unusual for a number of reasons - the nature of the sale, the price it went for and the history of the painting

This post is for those who enjoy their art history and includes reference links to other more in-depth articles about the painting.

Salvator Mundi (c.1500) by Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) 
25⅞ x 18 in (65.7 x 45.7 cm).
Sold on 15 November 2017 at Christie’s in New York
Here's my summary - each section is followed by referenced to some of the articles which comment in more depth on the painting and the auction

The Auction Sale

  • The final hammer price shattered the world record for a sale of an artwork at auction. The painting sold for $400 million (at a cost of $450,312,500 to the buyer after you include the auction house premium). That equates to a cost to the buyer of £342,182,751.
  • It exceeded the previous highest valued painting at auction by more than $200 million
  • It was very unusually sold at an evening auction of Post-War and Contemporary Art - because it's at evening sales where wealthy art collectors buy their art
“By putting it in a contemporary sale, they shine a big light on the painting.”
  • Almost 30,000 people viewed the painting as it was displayed to the public in The painting was show to the public in Hong Kong, London, San Francisco and New York. It's the very first time the painting has been shown to the public in Asia or the Americas.
  • It was billed as "The Last Da Vinci", the "Male Mona Lisa", a "once in a lifetime sale" and the “Holy Grail” for elite collectors
  • The auction house was so confident that it would sell for a high price that it had guaranteed a price of $100 million
  • The bidding lasted 19 minutes with four bidders on the telephone and one in the room. The last bid jumped $30 million to close out the auction!
  • The comments on the Facebook Live Stream of the sale make for interesting and somewhat predictable reading
  • Nobody knows who the successful bidder was. It's likely to remain in private hands.

They made a film of people viewing the painting prior to the sale.


The history of the painting

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

César Dezfuli wins £15,000 Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize 2017

Winner of the £15,000 Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize 2017
César Dezfuli being interviewed about his portrait of 16 year old Amadou Sumaila
It's extremely gratifying that the two photographs of refugees won the first and second prize in the Taylor Wessing Photographic Competition 2017 over the photograph of the android which to my mind was technically in breach of the rules of the competition and should have been eliminated.

I'm very much NOT a fan of competitions which change the rules after they have taken the money from those people who submit entries. It's just not fair or decent - and some might argue it's not legal either.

I'm actually going to split this post in two and deal with:
  • the first two prizes and the exhibition in this post
  • the entry which won third prize and the reason why, in my opinion, this was a clear breach of the rules - and what needs to happen to prevent this happening again in a post tomorrow. 
This aside.....

The competition had 5,717 submissions from 2,423 photographers living in 66 countries.  Those on the walls of the exhibition are as international as those submitting their photos for consideration by the jury.

The jury considering the entries has nothing other than the title to go on. All entries are anonymous as both the name of the photographer and the person who is portrayed. 

This year for the first time those entering work were allowed to submit digital entries for the first sift which will have much reduced expenses in relation to postage and packing for those living overseas. It also means that the jury can spend longer on those that make it through to the second sift.

The Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize 2017 - First Prize

Amadou Sumalia by César Dezfuli
From the series Passengers
Inkjet print, August 2016

The £15,000 prize went to César Dezfuli for his photograph of 16 year old Amadou Sumalia from Mali. He was later transferred to a reception centre in Italy.

It comes from his series of photos called "Passengers". This documented in 118 photographs (click the link to see other photographs in the series) about the migrants on a boat who came from Mali, Gambia, Guinea, Nigeria, Senegal and Sierra Leone. Most will have been economic migrants fleeing poverty.

It was taken very shortly after Amadou had been rescued from the Mediterranean, 20 miles off the Libyan coast along with 100+ other men. When compared with the rest of the photographs taken it's clear why this one was selected for this competition.

César Dezfuli

  • Age: born in Madrid on 10 January 1991
  • Nationality: Spanish-Persian origins
  • Occupation: freelance journalist and documentary photographer - focuses on issues of migration, identity and human rights
  • Current home: Madrid
  • Education: graduated in journalism and audio-visual communication from the Universidad Rey Juan Carlos, Madrid, Spain followed by a postgraduate qualification in photojournalism. 
  • Previous appearances in this award: None
  • Website:
His work documenting human rights issues has been published in numerous magazines and has been seen in group exhibitions in 2017 including First Prize in the Head On Photo Festival 2017 Portrait Category, and awards at the International Photographer of the Year Awards and the Moscow Foto Awards.

César told me that he'd been working on a freelance basis, following a project to rescue people who were at risk in the Mediterranean as they try to reach Europe.
I think Amadou’s portrait stands out because of the emotions it transmits. He had just been rescued by a European vessel, apparently fulfilling his dream. However, his look and his attitude show fear, mistrust and uncertainty, as well as determination and strength.’

Judges Comments: 

Against the balance and precision of Dezfuli’s composition, the directness of Sumaila’s gaze is striking and unsettling. The portrait powerfully conveys his loss, solitude and determination.
My comments: It's much smaller than I imagined but amazingly arresting.

Second Prize

Winner of the £3,000 Second Prize 
Abbie Traylor with her award and her photograph Fleeing Mosul
From the series Women in war: Life after ISIS
Colour coupler print, November 2016
Abbie Trayler-Smith won the £3,000 Second Prize.  Abbie is a Documentary and Portrait Photographer who was working on an assignment for Oxfam when she took the photograph. She was at the Hasan Sham camp for internally displaced people in northern Iraq when a convoy of buses had just arrived, bringing people to safety from the intense fighting in Mosul.
‘I remember seeing the shock and bewilderment in the woman’s face as she looked out at the camp from the window. It made me shudder to imagine what living under ISIS must have been like.’
Abbie told me that the woman is now in Baghdad with her husband.  Her family have returned to Mosul but her sister had both her legs blown off when their home was bombed in Mosul.
  • Age: born 20 May 1977
  • Nationality: born and raised in South Wales
  • Education: - 
  • Occupation: documentary and portrait photographer. Her work covers women’s rights, social development and the aftermath of conflict for national newspapers, charities and NGOs. She spent eight years as a photographer with The Daily Telegraph, covering world events such as the Darfur conflict, the Iraq war and the Asian tsunami, before deciding to go freelance in 2007. Her work has been seen in numerous publications and in group exhibitions and has also won awards
  • Current home: based in London
  • Clients: wide variety of clients including Time, The Sunday Times, The Independent Review, Marie-Claire, Tatler, Monocle, Vice, Oxfam, Save The Children, IRC, UNICEF, Sony and BBC worldwide.
  • Previous appearances in this award: The Big O, won 4th prize in The National Portrait Gallery’s 2010 Taylor Wessing Prize.
  • Website:

Abbie Trayler-Smith (b.1977) studied law at King’s College London. In her photographic career

Judges’ comments: 

The colour and texture of the portrait has a painterly quality, created by the mud-streaked glass through which the young woman is framed. Her haunting expression quietly suggests the unimaginable horrors of life under occupation.
My comments: I really liked this photo and hoped it would do well. The drips on the window of the bus seem to act as a metaphor for the situation at some many different levels.  Also while she is undoubtedly traumatised by her situation, there seemed to me to be a certain element of curiosity about what lay out the window which comes from being moved from where you have lived all your life.  Is it going to be any better?


One of the interesting things about the exhibition is how it has changed since both the Director of the NPG and the Curator of Photography have changed (following their respective retirements).

One of the first notes I made was "no twins and no gingers". I think I'd begun to assume these were perennial features of photographic competitions - but obviously not.

There's a very powerful wall about the America of 2016/17 which was excellent which I am now euphemistically referring to as the "portrait of America". The two photos either end of the left hand wall are of the "wall" between Mexico and the USA. Inbetween are photographs of the American election.  On the right are two photographs of individuals with iconic emblems of the 'real American'.

Portrait of America
Alan Mozes followed the campaign trail for two months at the end for Vanity Fair and his portraits of both Clinton and Obama made the cut.

Alan Mozes with his portraits of Clinton and Obama

Alice Schoolcraft graduated in 2016 with a Bachelor of Arts in Photographic Arts with First Class Honours at the University of Westminster in London. She is half Swedish and half American and went to stay with her (never met before) American family and found that their values and activities were very different from those she has been brought up with. She photographed some of the curious things they got up to and called the series The Other Side.
Curiosity about people’s personal lives is a driving force in my work and by employing detailed study I want to provide the viewer with the feeling that they know the people in my photographs personally without ever having met them.
Halo by Alice Schoolcraftinkjet print
The dog is wearing a necklace and is standing behind a chair which has a dress on it
Somebody is behind the dog and has put their hands through the arms of the dress
There are also very few celebrities this year - of the bling variety. Instead we have artists as subjects - Jack Vettriano (who was at the preview this morning), Maggi Hambling and AA Gill who has subsequently died.  Plus one of David Cameron looking fairly harassed a few days before the Referendum result - and his resignation.

Jack Vettriano (on the right) in front of the photo portrait of him
by Ian Mcilgorm (on the left)
David Cameron adjusting his tie prior to his formal portrait photo by Charles Bibby
Young people and what they get up seemed to be a recurrent theme of this year's exhibition. The exhibition also felt rather more international than it has hitherto.

Young people around the world
More young people from around the world

Four boys who feature in one of the portrait photos (top left)
Minecrafting by Hania Farrell - which is actually two portraits in one

Judging Panel

This year’s judging panel was
  • Dr Nicholas Cullinan, Chair (Director, National Portrait Gallery, London); 
  • David Campany (Writer, Curator and Artist); 
  • Tim Eyles, Managing Partner, Taylor Wessing LLP; 
  • Sabina Jaskot-Gill (Associate Curator, Photographs, National Portrait Gallery, London); 
  • Fiona Shields (Head of Photography, The Guardian) and 
  • Gillian Wearing (Artist.)

More about the Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize

The posts below contain images of past prizewinning portraits.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Three portraits of Billy Connolly

Back in May 2017, three portraits of the Big Yin - Billy Connolly - or Sir Billy Connolly as he is now designated - were unveiled as giant 50 ft/15m high murals in Glasgow as a tribute to his 75th birthday. (see Billy Connolly murals in Glasgow – the city’s birthday gift to the Big Yin at 75).

The portraits are by the Scottish artists - Jack VettrianoRachel Maclean and John Byrne.

Crops of the portraits of Billy Connolly by Jack Vettriano, Rachel McLean and John Byrne

The process of creating the portraits was filmed by the BBC and can be seen on iPlayer as Billy Connolly - Portrait of a Lifetime. 

The programme involves him talking about his life with each of the artists and is worth watching if only to see how each artists addresses the conundrum of how to portray Billy Connolly.

Jack Vettriano

The self-taught artist who paints from photographs - who portrayed Billy from a still from the Billy's television programme World Tour of Scotland series in 1994. It features a very windblown Billy on a storm-lashed coast near John O’Groats

Personally I think the Vettriano portrait is absolutely awful. He dislocated his shoulder in 2015 and announced at the time that he could no longer paint.  Whether or not he is back to fine fettle as an artist, the fact remains it just doesn't look like Billy Connolly!

His mural can be seen on a wall end in in Dixon Street near St Enoch Square.

Rachel McLean

Rachel represented Scotland this year at the Venice Biennale. She was born in 1987 in Edinburgh and lives and works in Glasgow. Her first degree, a BA Honours Drawing and Painting was at the Edinburgh College of Art, followed by a stint at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts Boston, USA

She works predominantly with videos and digital prints. She created a special costume based on his jokes. This came
replete with motifs from his career such as ‘mini bike parked in bum’ epaulettes, a sporran with an ‘aged’ nose sprouting hair, and make-up reflecting his famous ‘pale blue Scotsman’ joke, with representations of Glasgow life past and present in the background
I thought Rachel Mclean's approach to making a portrait was both ingenious and very in keeping with the sort of man Billy Connolly is. I'm not so sure I like the very dark digital print which was chosen for the mural.  The video below shows the extract from the BBC programme where Billy is shown the costume he's going to wear.

Her printed mural is on the Gallowgate near Barrowland Park.

John Byrne 

John Byrne is an old friend of Billy who attended Glasgow College of Art. He's unique in being both a prominent portrait artist and a playright. He has paintings in the collection of paintings hang in The Scottish National Portrait Gallery in Edinburgh, the Museum of Modern Art and the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum in Glasgow. He chose to create a drawing rather than a painting of Billy.

John Byrne is obviously the most accomplished draughtsman and I was very interested watching him draw Billy as he is now. However I thought it was a preliminary study for a painting and I was rather disappointed to find it wasn't going to be converted into a painting.

His mural can be found on a wall end in Osborne Street, Glasgow.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Best of the Drawing Year 2017

Students of the Royal Drawing School’s postgraduate programme - the Drawing Year - are having exhibitions of their work this month.
The works are by artists graduating from the School’s intensive postgraduate programme who have spent the last year exploring their practice through drawing from observation.

The Best of the Drawing Year 2017 Exhibition at Christies Ground Floor Gallery

The Drawing Year

The Drawing Year was founded in 2000 as the School’s flagship programme. It offers:
  • a year of intensive study, research and practice in drawing from life
  • high-quality teaching from a distinguished faculty. 
  • Every student is given a full scholarship and free studio space, allowing artists of all backgrounds to develop their artistic professions and careers in the creative industries
The scope to study for free is particularly relevant and helpful at a time of rising fees for education and the high cost of living in London.

Past graduates of The Drawing Year have gone on to work as fine artists, or have professional
practices in illustration, animation, architecture, film and theatre design.

Recent success stories include:
  • Clara Drummond, First Prize winner of the BP Portrait Award 2016
  • Kathryn Maples, winner of the Sunday Times Watercolour Competition in 2014 and 2016
  • Alice Shirley, acclaimed designer of Hermès silk scarves. 
Alumni have also exhibited widely in the UK and internationally, and their work is included in major collections, such as Tate, the Royal Collection, British Museum and the V&A Museum.

The Drawing Year 2016-17

Graduates of the most recent Drawing Year include the first ever graduate who started out on the Drawing School's Young Artists courses who has then gone on to complete The Drawing Year.
  • Londoner Gideon Summerfield age 22 was part of the Young Artists programme between the ages of 12-17. Since then he has graduated from Cardiff School of Art and Design with a First Class Honours Degree in Illustration, and credits the School with much of his success. I first highlighted him on this blog in Drawings of Holocaust Survivors.
  • Lee Cutter’s ink drawings of Japanese gardens symbolise the presence of harmony and balance. This metaphor of finding peace is important to Cutter – he led a difficult childhood, facing challenges in his education, a lack of support networks, and some bad decisions, which led to spending time in prison. Upon discovering drawing, it ‘gave him a new life’; he went to study fine art at university, and now works at the Koestler Trust, helping others transform their lives through the power of art.
drawings by Christabel McCreevy
  • Christabel MacGreevy came to The Drawing Year from Central St Martins, with a background in fashion and commercial textiles, looking to expand her practice. Christabel took up drawing and illustration to create the designs for her fashion brand launched in May 2017, Itchy Scratchy Patchy, featured in Vogue, NY Times Style and Financial Times Fashion
  • Richard Ayodeji Ikhide has used drawing to develop his textile designs into fine art.
  • Jack Fawdry Tatham’s interest in aquatint etchings (pictured above), has led to plans to reopen the printing press under Pollock’s Toy Museum, a Victoriana museum in Fitzrovia owned by his Grandmother. 
All the drawings in this exhibition are for sale; prices for a small print, study, or a large-scale drawing range between £150 - £2000.

The commission goes towards funding the School’s scholarship and bursaries programmes so that high-quality drawing tuition is available to all regardless of background or circumstance.

Exhibiting Artists

  • Joshua Bristow, 
  • Rosie Chamberlain, 
  • Jessica Jane Charleston, 
  • Ben Westley Clarke, 
  • Becca Collins, 
  • Mark Connolly, 
  • Laurie Crean, 
  • Somaya Critchlow, 
  • Lee Cutter, 
  • Joana Galego,
  • Alexander Gilmour, 
  • Judith Hagan, 
  • Nancy Haslam-Chance, 
  • Emily Hill, 
  • Richard Ayodeji Ikhide, 
  • Charlotte Johnston, 
  • Alice Macdonald, 
  • Christabel MacGreevy, 
  • Isaac Nugent, 
  • Jackson Rees, 
  • Tom Scotcher, 
  • Dorry Spikes, 
  • Jamie Stenhouse, 
  • Gideon Summerfield, 
  • Jack Fawdry Tatham, 
  • Stefan Tiburcio, 
  • Catherine Watson, 
  • Peter Wenman