The problem with portraiture is the people. You have to ask yourself if you care about any of the faces staring out at you at this annual portrait painting prize exhibition, and the answer almost overwhelmingly is ‘no’. Do I want to see James Martin from ‘Saturday Kitchen’ in his fucking bootcut jeans? Am I interested in Timothy Spall looking like he wished he was literally anywhere else? Nope. Do I want to see Simon Davis’s wife on the bog, Gary Sollars’s dad with his top off or Melissa Scott-Miller’s self-satisfied-looking teenage son and his trainer collection? Nope.
So you hunt around for a face you might want to know more about – a story that might pull you in more than Parmen Daushvili’s painting of his mate Dave on the couch for example – but they’re hard to come by. Wayne Clough’s Degas-like depiction of his nude partner has a restraint and decrepit tension to it, while Maria Carbonell’s grimly classical painting of her dad in bed feels full of impending and inevitable sadness. Edward Sutcliffe’s portrait of art forger John Myatt, coupled with a distorted duplicate image by a Chinese artist commissioned by Sutcliffe, is cleverer and more involving than most images here, though it’s still pretty ugly.
There’s some fine skill and clever ideas on show. Stunning photorealism (if that’s your kind of thing) in places, nifty composition in others, but it’s just not enough. Especially when you see the works that won the prizes. Thomas Ganter’s homeless man on a gold background isn’t particularly involving and has surely won largely for the ‘aw’-factor.
The problem is that the artists here have painted their mates or family members because they like them – but should we? It’s pretty hard to find a reason to. They’re not your friends, and you’ve got your own bloody family to deal with.