BP Portrait Award 2012 (4 stars)

BP Portrait Award 2012

Work from Aleah Chaplin, Ignacio Estudillo, Alan Coulson, Jamie Routley and Carl Randall

Should the viewer have taken the lift rather than the stairs, the first image which greets them in this year’s BP Portrait Prize has been, they will find, deployed for maximum effect. Athenian artist Antonios Titakis’ ‘Silent Eyes’ is a large-scale extreme close-up of a pretty and rather punkish young woman in monochrome, from a vantage point so near and so intimate that the very pores on her skin stand out.

This piece bears an impact which is repeated throughout the works showing as part of this year’s BP Portrait Prize display – if a visit to the National Portrait Gallery is a trip through the styles and techniques of portraiture through the centuries, then the current trend is very much to obtain a photorealist effect through painting. This is certainly represented in the choice of winning entries: Aleah Chaplin’s striking but somehow affectionate nude of her aunt; Ignacio Estudillo’s portrait of his grandfather sitting on the edge of his bed, captured as if through a night vision lens, a study of true isolation in the dark; and Alan Coulson’s ’Richie Culver’, a detailed study of a distinctive looking young artist wearing tattoos and a Hassidic-looking beard and hat.

As with Jamie Routley’s Young Artist winner, a triptych of ruddy-faced newspaper seller Tony Lewis, or Carl Randall’s monochrome Howson-meets-Hopper representation of the patrons in a Tokyo noodle bar, this year’s work is best when simply-posed and unvarnished by compositional gimmickry, such as photographs stagily-placed in the background or a budgie resting on Derren Brown’s foot. Just recreating the features of those involved with truthful expressivity is enough to tell their stories to the viewer.

Scottish National Portrait Gallery, Edinburgh, until Sun 27 Jan

Visually Impaired Tour and Workshop: BP Portrait Award 2012

Visually descriptive tour and practical workshop led by Juliana Capes.