Tim Okamura – National Portrait Gallery
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Tim Okamura

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

 

These images are part of my “Begin Transmission” series, an investigation of the importance of clear communication and meaningful exchange and dialogue, with an emphasis on positive messaging. The phrases incorporated into the paintings focus on self-acceptance, highlighting self-love as a key factor in allowing one to transmit energy that contributes to the evolution of a conscious and enlightened society. 

 

A friend had posted a simple meme, written in black and white, on her Instagram that said "Trust Your Dopeness" – I wanted to make a piece to celebrate this affirmation and Lee was a perfect fit for the concept. I wanted to portray strength, self-confidence, and a knowing look, while on a technical level experimenting with a color palette and application outside of the norm in my studio practice. I wanted to include some very thickly painted moments in the background, that became symbols of "heart" and courage, and also mark-making that captured energy in a more unconscious, almost accidental way. I applied in a very impasto way, but also allowed for washes and stains to dictate how they would move on their own. I also allowed myself to grab anything that was lying around – including ballpoint pens – to make very crude, expressive marks on the canvas. It is equally important to me to let go of the 'editing process' sometimes and let impulse take over in certain stages of making a painting. I love finding a balance in the work between very deliberate construction, guided by academic principles, and then very organic, unpredictable passages, that take on a life of their own.

 

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

 

Being a part of the BP Portrait Award allowed my work to reach a larger audience, globally, and also exposed me to the works of other figurative artists who I was not yet aware of. I discovered many amazing and influential voices in the world of portraiture.

 

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

There are so many to choose from, but I want to select an artist from, I believe, the year before my first acceptance to the BP Portrait Award - James Lloyd. He won first prize in 1997 for a portrait titled “Penelope Watching TV.” It’s not only a fantastic painting, but also one reason why I was inspired to enter the BP Portrait Awards - so there is a sentimental attachment as well. 

 

What’s your favourite work from the Collection?

 

Again, too many to choose from, but I’ll select Justin Mortimer’s portrait of Harold Pinter. I love the bold use of vibrant red, the handling of the light effect and paint, and especially the composition, with that density at the bottom. It was definitely an inspiration for some of my earlier work.