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Stuart Pearson Wright

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

I once met Stephen Merchant at an Art Party. We were all drawing over the walls of the flat which had been covered in paper. I later realised that it was just a rouse for the owner of the flat to get some free art. The best drawings were later cut out and framed. Stephen Merchant was one of the people I drew on the wall, since he was present at the party and was the tallest person there. It occurred to me at the time that I ought to paint him at some point, and so I did. He used this image to promote his stand up tour in 2011. Funny Guy is the biggest painting I have made to date. It is four metres wide and Steve’s portrayal is life-size.

The painting of Mike Leigh was made because Mike once rang me up and asked me to paint him. I asked how big he wanted the painting to be. He explained that the painting wasn’t for him, and that he wouldn’t be paying for it. He wanted me to paint him and offer the work to the National Portrait Gallery for them to buy for its Collection. And so I painted him. When I eventually finished the work some eight years later, and in Mike’s absence (from photographs) I indeed offered it to the National Portrait Gallery who did buy the painting. This was very helpful as I had a forthcoming mortgage bill to pay. Mike was somewhat piqued by my not offering him a ‘directorial’ sign-off on the completed painting however, and hasn’t spoken to me since. It was around this time that by coincidence, Mike’s films stopped being interesting.

Together In Electric Dreams is a portrait of the actress Keira Knightley but it is a portrait in which the sitter is ‘in character’, posing as someone else: in this instance, no particular person. The painting is a re-enactment of a scene which never occurred but may well have, and still might. The location in which the scene didn’t happen was around the corner from where I used to live in Bow, East London. The painting was made from life in my London Fields studio. I also made a video installation with Keira Knightley called MAZE which can be seen on my website. The inspiration for Together In Electric Dreams was the films of David Lynch, in particular the film Inland Empire.


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

It gave me a career. I suffer from a condition called unemployable irascible pain in the arse syndrome and if I hadn’t been able to paint I would now be in a very bad way I suspect. Without the BP awards I wouldn’t have been able to buy a home, find a wife or have children. The awards gave me my life, such as it is.


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

Too many to mention.


What’s your favourite work from the Collection?

Thomas Joseph Edmund Adès by Phil Hale.