Can you tell us about the series of prints available as part of the anniversary year, and the inspiration behind them?
My three prints are of large recent oil paintings depicting contemporary London; part of a series of works I am making about the UK’s capital city. They show my interest in narrative painting as a means to depict everyday scenes, people & places, and crowded urban spaces.
Piccadilly Circus depicts city-dwellers in relation to technology and consumerism - people using mobile phones surrounded by the area’s famous large outdoor neon advertisements. Malibu & Cornflakes, WC2 shows a supermarket at night, and looks at similar themes of consumer culture and modern urban life. To create the crowds that appear in Piccadilly Circus and Waterloo Bridge, I painted portraits of about 125 London residents directly from life; each sitter coming to my studio for a 2-3 hour portrait session (without use of photography). Waterloo Bridge is partially inspired by London’s diverse population.
The people that sat for their portraits were chosen to show a cross-section of London’s broad demographic, from different nationalities and ethnic backgrounds. All of the portraits are painted in black and white, placed against an area of intense blue. By contrasting colour against monochrome, I was attempting to highlight the fact that the portraits have been painted without colour (or, if you like, the people are all the same colour) – harmonising the crowd into one unified mass. The colour of the Thames River is usually a kind of murky tea-brown, but here I transformed it into bright aqua blue – helping lift the paintings mood and atmosphere, in keeping with the work’s positive message about the cities multiculturalism. By painting the portraits all in exactly the same pose (in profile), I am also inviting the viewer to notice the differences but also the similarities between the various types of faces.
What difference did being part of the BP Portrait Award make to you as an artist?
Exhibiting at the National Portrait Gallery is a wonderful opportunity for a figurative or portrait-based painter. I have been selected for the BP Portrait Award three times and each time I feel it has been a positive and encouraging experience. Winning the 2012 BP Travel Award was in particular a great opportunity. As part of the award, I had a display of 15 Japan-themed paintings included in the BP Portrait Awards 2013; and this combined with the shop promoting my ‘Japan Portraits’ catalogues and prints, helped bring my work to a wider audience. Having such a prestigious venue through which to promote my work has certainly been of great help.
Is there a particular artist or work from a previous year of the BP Portrait Award which you admire?
I have known Stuart (Pearson Wright) for about 25 years now – I have always admired him as a draughtsman and painter. I remember the first time he exhibited at BP Portrait Award in 1998, whilst we were still students at the Slade School. From that point onwards his career began to gain momentum, going on to win the BP Portrait Award a few years later, and he has since gone on to do many other great things (one of my favourites being him approaching the actor John Hurt on the street to ask if he could paint him – the resulting beautiful portrait is now part of the National Portrait Galleries permanent collection).
What's your favourite work from the Collection?
Difficult to decide as there are many to choose from, but basing it purely on the quality of the painting, I’d probably go for Phil Hale’s painting of Thomas Joseph Edmund Adès – a strongly composed and wonderfully psychological portrait. Basing it purely on my admiration for the sitter, I’d choose for Nina Mae Fowlers recent drawing of movie director Ridley Scott, as he’s a personal hero of mine.