Jennifer McRae RSA – National Portrait Gallery
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Jennifer McRae RSA

Can you tell us about the series of prints available as part of the anniversary year, and the inspiration behind them?

Two of my series of three prints – Hinterland and Picnic of Lies - can be described as factional.

They interweave reality with imagined constructs. I attempt a feeling of a stage set to give the compositions a potency. And I hope it raises questions for the viewer. These remain unanswered.

In Hinterland the backdrop to the river is a visual diary of international cities I have spent time and painted in, often setting up a temporary studio space in an unfamiliar room.

Picnic of Lies is anchored by the central edifice of an empty factory building; its mystery has often intrigued me. Because I paint people, so buildings and architecture are natural subjects to also draw and paint.

The sitters in Hinterland and Picnic of Lies are all personal to me. Two of them are related to me. They are frequenters of the studio and familiar with its environment. Young people often understand what is required almost telepathically. They can be the catalyst and inspiration to the composition as it expands around them.

The third print is an individual portrait. The focus is centred on AP. It was important to me to convey his mental strength and focus. 

In person he comes across as self-effacing, generously helpful and gently spoken but he has an inner core of absolute steel or he would not be capable of his huge achievements in the competitive and dangerous world of horse racing.

Jockeys have always fascinated me; their physical courage astounds me. A.P. McCoy is also blessed with a marvellous face and proved a great visual subject to draw and paint. I set him in the “colours room” at 7 Barrows stables where the portrait commenced. This choice of setting also allowed me to indulge in portraying the silken colours which are so much a part of the jockey’s identity out there in the field.

There is a betting slip to the left lower side in the portrait. This is the bet I placed on him and his horse (Don’t push it) for the Grand National at that time. How could I not?

Naturally he won.

What difference did being part of the BP Portrait Award make to you as an artist

The BP Portrait Travel Award allowed me to work as an artist in another country and through this experience fed me the desire to continue visiting and working in unfamiliar situations.

The award also allowed me to exhibit the works from my experience to a vast audience which in turn helped to introduce me to patrons, artists and an abundance of interesting subjects to paint.

Is there a particular artist or work from a previous year of the BP Portrait Award which you admire?

A past BP Portrait Award winner I particularly admire is Ishbel Myerscough.

What’s your favourite work from the Collection?

I have two favourite works in the National Portrait Gallery Collection - the Elizabethan portrait, Sir Henry Lee by Anthonis Mor and Phil Hale’s Thomas Joseph Edmund Adès.