Friday, 6 December 2013

Being on telly and all that...

Well, I thought it about time to tell of my recent experience on the tv programme 'Portrait Artist of the Year 2013', broadcast on Sky Arts.

you know you've made it when your face is on a barrier

The premise of the show is a bit like 'The Great British Bake-Off', but with artists doing portraits, instead of making cakes. Earlier in the year, someone passed me some information about the competition. All you needed to do was fill in a simple form and send in a self-portrait. The winner of the competition won a £10,000 commission to create a portrait of author Hilary Mantel. Luckily I had recently done a linocut self-portrait (just for fun), so I applied, and then forgot all about it...
  

my self-portrait
..and then in June I got a phone call...at first I thought it was a wind-up, but the lady on the phone was genuine. I had been selected (from over 2000 applicants!) for the finals of the show. She then explained that I need to go down to Cardiff for the filming in July 2013. Crikey. I had a month or so to prepare myself, and get some practice in. I'm not specifically a portrait artist, so felt like I needed to get more familiar with the concept, and roped in some friends for linocut portraits. The practice did help, but I was still very nervous. On the day, it was explained to me, I (and 20 other artists) had to create a portrait of a mystery public figure in 5 hours. It isn't a very long time, and I envisaged spending most of it scratching my head working out what to do.

As well as the Cardiff heat, there were heats in London, Glasgow and Dublin, and one person from each would go forward to the final to compete for the Mantel commission, which will be displayed in the National Portrait Gallery.

So the time came...My kind friends in Cardiff, Charlotte and John, put me up for a couple of nights, and looked after me so generously. I got a taxi to Cardiff City Hall, the location for the filming, bleary eyed, after a rather restless nights sleep. I found a gaggle of other nervous artists, clutching their equipment, and equally wondering how they got themselves into this. Eventually all the artists were gathered together, given mic packs and a lanyard with a number on. Mine was number 1 (not necessarily a good omen!).
lanyard no.1

We were then taken outside to be filmed entering the building, and then shown to our workspaces. As I was the only printmaker in the competition, I wasn't sure what to expect really. I saw a lot of easels, but thankfully they had provided me with a table to work on! We then met the presenters of the show Frank Skinner and Joan Bakewell, and the competition judges, Kathleen Soriano, Director of Exhibitions at the Royal Academy, Kate Bryan, Head of Contemporary at the Fine Art Society and portrait artist Tai-Shan Schierenberg. They were a friendly bunch, especially Frank, who seemed rather taken by linocut! We also got to look at all of the other self-portraits, in the flesh, which was pretty daunting. Some amazing work, and I felt very much out of my depth!


some of the self-portraits (look how tiny mine is!)

more self-portraits
One thing I couldn't get my head around was the amount of people involved with making a tv programme. There were hundreds of them, dozens of camera people, runners, directors etc, and so much equipment! We even had a person designated to each of us all day to get us drinks! I felt a bit awkward with this, but nevertheless drank about 10 cups of tea during the day. So then the competition filming began, and all the artists watched nervously as Frank and Joan introduced the show, and brought in the mystery sitters. There were three sitters, so the group of 21 was split into smaller groups of seven. And they were...rugby international Gavin Henson, Lucien Freud's model Sue Tilly and Falkland veteran Simon Weston. My group were given Simon. He came round and met us all, and seemed as nervous as the rest of us! Somehow this put me at ease a little. So the timer began and we all set to work. At first I has to stop myself being nosey. I wasn't used to being around lots of other artists, and was intregued by what they were up to. 

Frank and Joan getting ready to start the competition

I eventually got started on the portrait. I tried to follow my process, and block out everything else that was happening (lots of artists were wearing headphones, good thinking) and whittled away at my lino. It seemed to be going ok, but I wasn't totally sure, as you never really know how it looks until you do a test-print. There were a lot of interruptions too, with the hosts/judges wanting to chat and film extra bits for the show. We had a proper break for lunch, and all the artists got to have a bit of a chat and a look at how each other were getting on. however, I was a bit concerned about time, so bolted my lunch and got back to the lino! At the point of doing a test-print, I really had reservations. I really wan't sure that I'd got a likeness. To my relief, it looked ok, and like Mr Weston! So I carried on, making sure I didn't over-do it, and even added a second plate, for Simon's shirt. I pretty much finished an hour before the time was up, so spent the rest of my time trying different prints, and adjusting the colour combinations. I think a few of the more photo-realist painters struggled a bit with the time, as they were used to spending months on paintings, not 5 hours. I'm glad I'm not a painter.
my view of Mr Weston

Time was called, in a rather dramatic fashion, and us artists shuffled out for more on-camera chats about how the day had gone, and more tea and cakes. Its a hard life! We now had to leave the judges to decide on their favourite three portraits. There was a definite sense of relief and camaraderie among the artists there. It was very odd trying to be creative under such constraints, and it made the achievements of the artists even more great.

So all 21 of us shuffled back to the main room to hear the decision. We all had to stand in a big group in front of the camera while they read out the three names. It did feel a bit like we were on X-Factor for a moment....and I think everyone was pretty darn nervous/excited.
my prints and test-prints

And the first name they called out was.....mine (deliberate annoying hesitation noted)! I really did think they had made a mistake, so hesitated a little before walking to my spot, but they carried on and called out the other two artists (amazing painters Nick and Gavin). We were all a little gobsmacked, and were led out for more interviews and thoughts. I'm not really sure I was making much sense by this point. If you have seen the show, you'll notice my interviews are mercifully brief! Now was time for another break, while the judges discussed who the winner was going to be from us three. All the other artists were really lovely and gracious, not at all miffed at not being shortlisted. I felt a bit guilty nonetheless. Finally the three of us were led out to stand in front of our portraits and talk to the judges about them. I've no idea what I said. I think I might have just smiled and nodded. 
my 'Simon Weston' 2-colour linocut

Then Frank read out the winner, and it was...Nick. A deserved winner. His portrait of Gavin Henson was brilliant, and a very different approach to painting that I'd seen before. He was a nice chap too, very modest. I wasn't disappointed at all. I was very flattered indeed to get in the top 3.
the top 3 just before the result. that is Nick, far right

Phew, what a day. I was ready for a beer (and thanks to Charlotte and John, I got one). Before I could leave, we had further interviews and all that, and Frank Skinner came up to me to ask if he could possibly have my 'self-portrait' that was on display, as he really really liked it! How could I refuse?

So a weird and stressful day, but a brilliant experience, and one I'd definitely recommend to any artists.

I've seen the episode now, and it is equally odd watching yourself on tv, not to mention cringe worthy. It is a fascinating show, and I've really got drawn in to what has happened in the other episodes too. The final is on next Tuesday (10th December) on Sky Arts and I'm rooting for Nick Lord to win.. C'mon boy!

1 comment:

  1. It was cool seeing you on this,I love this programme!

    ReplyDelete