If you've been keeping yourself updated on the latest happenings from the art world, you won't be surprised that our top artist of this week is Clara Drummond. This year's BP Portrait Award was given to the Edinburgh-born artist, and since the competition was quite a challenging one, it should be taken as one of her biggest accomplishments so far. This is not the first time that Drummond's art is welcomed by the exhibition space of the National Portrait Gallery for the same reason, as her paintings were already accepted for the BP Portrait Award four times before, in 2006, 2009, 2013 and 2014. Clara's submission this year was an intimate, yet mysterious portrait of a friend and a colleague, the artist Kirsty Buchanan, which finally placed Drummond among the yearly winners of the prestigious award, some of whom you probably know of, such as Victoria Russel, Ishbel Myerscough, Peter Monkman, Susanne du Toit etc. The fact that the painter and the sitter know each other well, and are both artists, was probably one of the most important precursors for the jury's decision. This was, of course, not something that was put into words, but was rather transfigured and mediated through the painting itself. As Clara explained: “History, nature, mythology and art all feed into her work so when I am drawing or painting her it feels more like a collaboration than a portrait sitting.”
As much as this award truly speaks about Drummond's exceptional talent, it is not her only painting that would steal your attention - the portraits she makes are all done with a recognizable sentiment, slightly low in contrast and always seemingly spontaneous. It's not the only one to represent Kirsty Buchanan, either. Apparently, the two have been "collaborating", as Clara says, for years, which makes it clear why the painting radiates such powerful energy. Knowing the subject (in portraiture - the person) always shows, and it always gives a final layer to the piece. All the skillfulness aside, it usually takes something more, something special to make the work become a true masterpiece. It could also be the reason why most the paintings seem to capture a spontaneous moment. In this portrait specifically, though, the facial expression remains somehow unclear, which makes the portrait twice as interesting, as the ways to interpret it are numerous. One of the details that the artist singles out as important is the reason why this particular vintage dress was being worn to the sittings by her friend (hence the title of the image, Girl in a Liberty Dress). Reportedly, both of them were working with the William Morris Society archive, through which they came in touch with the hand-drawn patterns on garments that they greatly admired. The dress is a lovely homage to the designs made by William Morris's wife Jane and daughter May.
In case you're not familiar with the history and character of the award, stay with us for a brief review of this remarkable annual event. This is the 37th time that the competition takes place, and the 27th time that it has been sponsored by BP. It seeks for artists who specialize in portraiture, coming from all over the world, regardless of age and style, which ultimately helps accumulate a vast number of entries each year, the best of which are then exhibited at the National Portrait Gallery in London. The first prize of £30,000 is given to a single artist, but the second and the third place are selected as well, and so is the Young Artist Award and Travel Award. Nonetheless, one of the most important endeavors of this event is to give talented portraitists an outstanding opportunity to build their careers further and to gain recognition on an international level once their portraits are crowned by this award. This year, 2557 entries were received, and the official exhibition will take place from June 23rd (today) until September 4th, 2016. We suggest you stop by the National Portrait Gallery as soon as you get the chance, and to see Drummond's mesmerizing work, but the rest of these stunning portraits as well. Brace yourselves for the 2nd award winner's work, since Bo Wang's photograph of his dying grandmother is a real tear-jerker, and also do not hesitate to admire Benjamin Sullivan's hyperrealistic portrait of the poet Hugo Williams, which won the 3rd prize.
Clara Drummond used to study at the Royal Drawing School in London and she has become a member of the teaching staff. In case you're keen on drawing and would love to improve your skills or learn something new, there are three excellent ways to achieve that before the end of this year. One is the Summer School course Inspired by Flora, and the others take place in Autumn term, called Drawing a Story and The Contemporary Portrait: Drawing and Painting. Clara will be leading each of these courses, and you can find more information on her approach to the subject here.
Featured images: Clara Drummond - Girl in a Liberty Dress, 2016 (BP Portrait Award 1st prize); Photograph of Clara Drummond. All images used for illustrative purposes only.