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German artist wins BP Portrait Award after chance encounter with homeless man
Man with a Plaid Blanket by Thomas Ganter © Thomas Ganter

LONDON.- The winner of the BP Portrait Award 2014 was announced at the National Portrait Gallery. The prestigious first prize - in the 25th anniversary year of the competition - was won by 40-year-old German artist Thomas Ganter, for Man with a Plaid Blanket, a striking portrait of a homeless car-windscreen cleaner.

Ganter was presented with £30,000 and a commission, at the National Portrait Gallery Trustees’ discretion, worth £5,000. The portrait can be seen at the National Portrait Gallery from Thursday 26 June when the BP Portrait Award 2014 exhibition opens to the public.

A chance sighting outside Frankfurt’s Städel Museum provided the artist with the inspiration for his First Prize-winning entry, the first for a German artist in the competition’s history. Having spent a rainy afternoon viewing the Städel’s collection of Old Masters, Ganter was struck by the similarities between many of the museum’s paintings and the homeless man he noticed on a nearby street.

The second prize of £10,000 went to Bath-based teacher and artist Richard Twose, 51, for Jean Woods, a portrait depicting the model and star of the documentary Fabulous Fashionistas.

The third prize of £8,000 went to Brooklyn-based artist David Jon Kassan, 37, for Letter to my Mom, a portrait of his mother including a written tribute in Hebrew inscribed into the painting.

The BP Young Artist Award of £7,000 for the work of a selected entrant aged between 18 and 30 has been won by Ignacio Estudillo Pérez for Mamá (Juana Pérez).

The awards were presented by actor Nigel Havers.

First Prize: Thomas Ganter (26.03.1974) for Man with a Plaid Blanket (1600 x 600mm, oil on canvas)
Thomas Ganter is an artist and illustrator from Frankfurt/Main, Germany. His winning portrait of Karel, a homeless man he encountered following a visit to a museum, invites the viewer to contemplate the coexistence of wealth and poverty. ‘After being in a museum, I saw a homeless man and was stunned by a similarity: the clothes, the pose, and other details resembled what I just saw in various paintings. However, this time I was looking at a homeless person wrapped in a blanket and not at the painting of a saint or noble in their elaborate garment. By portraying a homeless man in a manner reserved for nobles or saints, I tried to emphasise that everyone deserves respect and care. Human dignity shouldn’t be relative or dependent on socio-economic status’. Karel, who tries to earn some money by cleaning car windscreens in the artist’s neighbourhood, attended five sittings for the portrait. After these, in which the head and the hands were painted, Ganter used a life-sized doll, and painted the clothes and the blanket before finally adding the artificial flower at the bottom right.

Judges’ comments - Man with a Plaid Blanket: ‘All the judges were struck by the intensity of the sitter’s gaze and how every texture and surface was rendered in intricate detail - from the icon-like gold chain fence to the rose in the crumpled paper cup’.

Second Prize: Richard Twose (01.04.1963) for Jean Woods (900 x 600mm, oil on board)
The first time Richard Twose, a teacher and artist, saw the sitter of his portrait, Jean Woods, was when she was working in a shop in Bath, the British city where he is based. He was impressed not only by her striking looks and contemporary, edgy style, but also by the depth of character in her face. Following the broadcast of Channel Four's documentary Fabulous Fashionistas which featured Jean, Richard’s daughter told him she was the grandmother of a friend. After calling her and asking her to sit for him, he was struck by her professionalism as a sitter –derived from her recent experience as a fashion model and from a quality of stillness she seems to possess naturally. ‘Sometimes as Jean was talking, especially about her much-missed late husband, she reminded me of Rembrandt's Portrait of Margaretha de Geer, says Richard. ‘Jean has a similar intensity and honesty in her gaze. I wanted to capture that sense of someone who has learnt to be almost fearless, looking forward to life still but with a great richness of experience behind her’.

Judges’ comments - Jean Woods: ‘The judges immediately recognised the strong personality coming through in this portrait. The stylish Modernist quality of the painting was well judged and seemed to reflect the subject perfectly’.

Third Prize: David Jon Kassan (25.02.1977) for Letter to my Mom (1245 x 810mm, oil on aluminium panel)
Brooklyn-based artist David Jon Kassan, born in Little Rock, Arkansas, invited his mother and father to sit for him in his studio in New York City while his parents made a brief stop on their way to Europe. He had painted his mother a few years before, and he says she was reluctant to sit for him again, saying in order to persuade her, he had to bribe her by offering her a painting of his son Lucas. ‘My work is very personal and heartfelt,’ he says. ‘It’s my visual diary, so my family and loved ones make up a large part of what and why I paint. My parents have always been inspirational to paint. This portrait is a letter to my mom, who hates it when I paint her. But I tell her in the painting that by painting her, it is my way of spending time with her, contemplating our relationship and time together, my earliest memories’. The Hebrew text painted onto the portrait above the sitter reads: ‘Dear Mom,/ This painting is my way to spend more time with you./ My way to meditate on our life together./ And all of the earliest memories I have / All of my earliest memories from you.’

Judges’ comments - Letter to my Mom: ‘The judges were moved by the palpable relationship between the sitter and his mother in this portrait. They felt there was a serenity in the pose and were particularly struck by the artist’s attention to his mother’s hands’.

BP Young Artist Award: Ignacio Estudillo Pérez (12.09.1985) for Mamá (Juana Pérez) (Oil on canvas, 1650 x 1420mm)
Ignacio Estudillo Pérez, 28, is the winner of the BP Young Artist Award for a portrait of his mother, Juana, a hospital worker in the family’s hometown of Jerez de la Frontera. Pérez now lives in Malaga after studying at the School of Arts and Crafts in Jerez de la Frontera and the Real Academia de Bellas Artes of Seville while also attending art classes with Spanish realist painter Antonio López García. Painting in oils, Estudillo took two and a half years to complete the work, a lengthy process that required numerous sittings in the artist’s living room. After abandoning an earlier effort that he felt failed to capture his mother’s spirit, he switched to a ‘less forced pose, showing a direct relationship between us’ and experimented with several differently coloured backgrounds before choosing a ‘disagreeable white, rather than a white of purity’. In 2012, the Spanish artist received second prize in the BP Portrait Award for a study of his grandfather.

Judges’ comments – Mama: ‘It was intriguing that two of the prizewinning portraits were of the artists’ mothers. The haunting space in this painting made the judges all pay attention and focus on the intriguing subject in the white coat’.

The winner of the BP Travel Award 2014, an annual prize to enable artists to work in a different environment on a project related to portraiture, was also announced last night. The prize of £6,000 is open to applications from any of the BP Portrait Award-exhibited artists.

This year the BP Travel Award has been awarded to Edward Sutcliffe for his proposal to document the Compton Cricket Club which was formed as an initiative to help encourage and empower the disaffected youth of an area of Los Angeles synonymous with poverty and crime. By spending as much time with the team as possible (either on the pitch or in their everyday lives) and seeing the impact playing cricket has had on people from some of the city’s toughest streets, Sutcliffe intends to draw and paint the players, producing portraits that show a fusion of two very different cultures and how the game of cricket with its ethos of fair play and honestly has been embraced by this community. Edward’s resulting work will be displayed in the BP Portrait Award 2015 exhibition.

The work of BP Travel Award 2013 winner Sophie Ploeg, a Bristol-based Dutch Artist, is on display at this year’s exhibition. Having studied Art & Architectural History at universities in The Netherlands, Ploeg, 39, won last year for her proposal to explore how fashion and lace was represented in 17th century art, as well as in modern applications. She has visited famous lace-making centres such as Bruges in Belgium and Honiton in Devon, modern lace makers and artists, antique lace collections and 17th century art collections, and has undertaken literary research.

The BP Portrait Award 2014 received 2,377 entries from 71 different countries. Judged anonymously, 55 portraits have been selected for the exhibition (National Portrait Gallery, London, 26 June-21 September 2014, Admission free). In 2013 the BP Portrait Award received 285,514 visitors. The Portrait Award, now in its 35th year at the National Portrait Gallery and 25th year of sponsorship by BP, is a highly successful annual event aimed at encouraging artists to focus upon, and develop, the theme of painted portraiture within their work. The BP Portrait Award, one of the world’s most prestigious art competitions, has a First Prize of £30,000, making it one of the largest for any global arts competition.

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