ARTYFACTS: January 2008

Sunday, January 06, 2008

BP Portrait Competition (National Portrait Gallery - Edinburgh)

This is the winner of the 2007 BP Portrait Competition. Took my 14 year old son to this exhibition and neither of us were moved to much comment. Nothing stood out as being beyond expectations. The range of skills were impressive but there was no sense of danger or experiment in any of this work. It was all too straight (literally traditional poses). In a good portrait you see a person you want to meet in real life. Most of these characters looked like the dull middle-class friends of the painters (that's because most of them were). This is why I liked the old guy who the artist had paid a fiver to pose.

The photorealistic stuff, one of which won the competition, demanded admiration, but only in the sense that one admires massive effort. The winner was the best of the bunch, but not groundbreaking.

Carole Rhodes (Mus of Modern Art - Edinburgh)

Acres of space devoted to these small paintings that reside somewhere between realism and abstraction. They look familiar, yet unfamiliar, blending imaginative elements with elements from the real world.

They're odd things, painted on wood using crude brushwork and in not-quite-real palettes. The influence of Edward Hopper is clear and the effect similar. They 'look like' landscapes but are products of the imagination, containing elements that 'look like' quarries, hills, airports, buildings - but not people. The complete absence of people makes them seem abstract.

Most are isometric, a sort of 45 degree angle on the ground, as taken from an aircraft. This angle has become familiar to any computer-game player. What makes them more interesting is the flood of satellite imagery that appears, courtesy of Google earth, on almost every news programme. We're becoming very familiar with satellite imagery and its pop-art companion, the sat-nav screen.

I liked this journey and this is an outstanding first major exhibition. but would have liked to see her punch out of what became a rather repetitive exercise. The Aeroplane image was a good example of her moving forward. If not, she runs the danger of ending up in a bit of a cul-de-sac.