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Dutch Artist Wins BP Portrait Award 2011 for His 17th Picture of a Life-Long Model
Holly by Louis Smith (2nd prize). © Louis Smith.

LONDON.- On Tuesday 14 June 2011 the winner of the BP Portrait Award 2011 was announced at the National Portrait Gallery. In a record-breaking year for entries, the prestigious first prize was won by 57-year-old artist Wim Heldens, who has been exhibited twice before in the competition but shortlisted for the first time this year. His winning portrait, Distracted, is a picture of a 25-year-old student the artist has painted 17 times at different stages of his life.

Wim Heldens wins £25,000 and a commission, at the National Portrait Gallery Trustees’ discretion, worth £4,000. The portrait can be seen at the National Portrait Gallery from Thursday 16 June when the BP Portrait Award 2011 exhibition opens to the public.

The second prize of £8,000 went to Louis Smith for Holly and the third prize of £6,000 to Ian Cumberland for Just to Feel Normal.

There was, also for the fifth time, the BP Young Artist Award of £5,000 for the work of an entrant aged between 18 and 30. This has been won by Sertan Saltan for Mrs Cerna.

First Prize: Wim Heldens (29.03.54) for Distracted (oil on canvas, 750mm x 550mm)
Wim Heldens is a self-taught, professional artist who lives in Amsterdam and whose work has been seen in numerous group and solo exhibitions in Europe and the United States. He was a BP Portrait Award exhibitor in 2008 and 2010. His sitter is Jeroen, a 25-year-old philosophy student to whom the artist has been a father-figure since he was four. He has sat for him over 20 times, and is pictured here leaning on a section of wall with a pencil in his hand wearing the black and grey of which Heldens says, ‘he only seems to be wearing these days’. The simple white studio walls are used as a framework for his composition, focusing on his sitter in the light from the window. ‘I have been fascinated with painting Jeroen in all stages of life through growing up. Now, he is an intelligent and sensitive young man’.

While he has painted Jeroen many times in group portraits, Heldens says once in a while he has the desire to paint a simple portrait of just him. His 2008 BP Portrait Award-exhibited work La Bohème showed Jeroen with his best friend Jelle, while his other previously exhibited work in the competition, in 2010, was Stationed in Utah a portrait of his partner Eric.

Wim Heldens says: ‘I paint from intuition, always trying to paint that what touches me deepest, but being a painter who is more of a doer than a thinker, it is very hard for me to explain what I try to capture. As Edward Hopper says: "If you could say it in words, there would be no more reason to paint".....I paint what I "feel" with my eyes and maybe it is for other people then to tell what I have captured’.

Second Prize: Louis Smith (14.08.69) for Holly (oil on canvas, 3640mm x 2430mm)
Louis Smith, from Manchester, studied painting at Sheffield Hallam University and scene painting at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. He has exhibited in Britain and Italy and at the 2009 BP Portrait Award. His eight-foot portrait shows a naked model called Holly hand-cuffed to a rock in a wild cave-like landscape. The Allegory of Prometheus is re-imagined in female form. Prometheus stole fire from Zeus and give it to mortals; as punishment he was bound to a rock while an eagle ate his liver daily only for it to grow back to be eaten the next day. Holly looks into the eagle’s face with calm resilience, accepting her fate. ‘It’s a message of composure in the face of adversity, something we can all draw strength from in our struggle to make a daily living.’ The portrait has a huge gilt frame with a marble plaque at the base, inscribed with the name ‘Holly’. ‘It’s an extravagant attempt to illuminate the Baroque style,’ says Smith, who was helped with set, frame and background painting by Carmel Said.

Third Prize: Ian Cumberland (16.03.83) for Just to Feel Normal (oil on linen, 1500mm x 1000mm)
Ian Cumberland lives and works in County Down, Northern Ireland. Since graduating in Fine and Applied Arts at the University of Ulster in 2006 he has had a solo exhibition at the Albermarle Gallery in London and has won several awards. Ian’s work is represented in public collections in Ireland. He was a BP Portrait Award exhibitor in 2009. His shortlisted portrait is an enigmatic half-smiling head-and-shoulders study of a friend, who has a tuft of short blond hair and slightly-closed left eye lids perhaps indicating a more melancholy demeanour. ‘This is a painting of a friend whose story is like many others from my generation that have fallen victim to themselves and their preferred habits’, says Cumberland. ‘The title Just to feel Normal refers to his answer when asked why he continues along his chosen path’.

BP Young Artist Award: Sertan Saltan (17.09.82) for Mrs. Cerna (oil on canvas, 410mm x 510mm)
Born in 1982 in Eskisehir, Turkey, Sertan Saltan now lives and works in Avon, Connecticut (USA), where he is developing a studio. He studied painting at a famous atelier in Istanbul before moving to the United States in 2006 to continue his studies at New York State University where he gained a BFA in Product Design. His sitter Mrs Cerna is the younger sister of a friend in New York City, who is caught glancing at the artist, almost menacingly, in her hair rollers and latex gloves sharpening a large knife. ‘The contrast of knife, gloves and rollers brought both humour and horror to mind’, he says. ‘The animated sharpening of the knives and thoughtful facial expressions were burned into my mind’s eye. I wanted to capture on canvas that moment which allows the viewer to meet this extraordinary woman and experience the richness and complexity of her preparation for Thanksgiving dinner’.

In addition, The BP Travel Award 2011 winner was also announced last night. The BP Travel Award is an annual award of £5,000, to allow artists to experience working in a different environment on a project related to portraiture.

This year’s award was won by Jo Fraser for her proposal to travel to the Cuzco region of Peru where she will observe the labour-intensive production of textiles in small indigenous communities. She has always been fascinated by the symbolism within the weavings, the methods of creating them, and the historical traditions of the process. Her final piece in oils will be developed from sketches and photographs taken during her visit. Jo receives a bursary of £5,000 to travel to Peru and her final work will be displayed in the BP Portrait Award 2012 exhibition.

The work of the BP Travel Award 2010 winner Paul Beel records the journey he undertook to Corfu to paint a large-scale polyptych of a nudist beach, which portrays the wide range of locals and tourists the artist encountered during a month-long stay on the island. The resulting painting Epic Mirtiotissa, and a video portrait of Paul’s month on Corfu, will be shown in this year's exhibition.

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