June 18, 2024


Art Shines Through

Semi Finals of Portrait Artist of the Year 2022

Semi Finals of Portrait Artist of the Year 2022

This is all about the semi-finals of Portrait Artist of the Year 2022 (Series 9) which was broadcast last night. It covers various observations about the Semi-Final (the reality and the programme) including:

  • The Semi Finalists
  • The Wild Card
  • The Heat Paintings
  • The Sitter setup and setting
  • Decision-making
  • The Finalists
Episode 8 – The Semi-Finals of Portrait Artist of the Year 2022

The Semi Finalists

I listed and profiles all the semi finalists in my previous post Portrait Artist of the Year – The Semi-Finalists – with my view of how well they would do. They are – in Episode order:

Plus a wildcard!

The artists in the PAOTY Semi Finals

The Wild Card

In my last post I wondered if the Judges would bring back a wildcard – somebody who deserved a place in the semi-finals even if they didn’t win their heat – and they did! 

Nina Ruminska (Instagram) was in Episode 5 which Binny Mathews won. This was her portrait of Alexis fFrench – a British classical and soul musician, composer, producer, and pianist – in that heat

Alexis fFrench by Nina Ruminska (Episode 5)
She was born in 1989 in Toruń, Poland although is now currently based in Dublin, Ireland. Her preference is to paint people from life during a time of quiet sitting and reflection.  

The Judges brought her back because they were concerned that given the high standard of the artists in the heats maybe there’s an artist who needs a second chance. Tai described her as having a sense of melancholia “which we all like” married with a beautiful sense of colour. 

I’m very inclined to think it’s more likely that at the back of their mind they needed to be sure they had yet another artist who could paint Afro Caribbean skin.

The Sitter

Rebecca Ferguson in her full length sequinned stage outfit and a rather weird hairdo

The Sitter for the Semi Finals was Rebecca Ferguson. She is a British soul singer and songwriter who came second in the X factor in 2010 and has since had a successful singing career. 

We learned that she likes to collect French portraits – from the 17th and 18th Century – because she enjoyed all the clothes they wore at the time.

I think the sitter in the setting was a tough challenge for a number of the artists.

  • I think a number of artists found the colouration of sitter’s dress combined with the colours of the setting to be a bit of a challenge. 
  • Her head is also a good size and has a good profile – but the dress drowns the head out of the picture – or so it seemed to me. 

Observations about the Semi-Final

The Set and the Setting 

The set-up without sitter or artists

It’s probably the episode most likely to cause the artists to have “nerves” for a number of reasons. 

It’s probably at least 30 feet between artist and sitter – if not 40 feet!

These are:

  • they’re one of eight artists painting the same sitter in a large semi circle around the sitter – and not one of three painting a sitter in a segment 
  • they are MUCH further away from the sitter than in the heat – and very much further than any normal portrait painter would be from a sitter in real life. Hence one of the reasons why I’d never ever be critical of anybody who references a photo or digital image during this episode. 
  • all the artists can see all the other artists’ heat portrait paintings on the back wall of the hall as they come in. It’s very easy to see people who are better than you (you think!).
The Heat Portraits – on the wall in the semi-finals

For me in terms of the Heat Paintings:

  • there were two standout candidates for the Final: Morag Caistor and Binny Mathews. Both tried to paint most of the person on a LARGE canvas. Tai commented on the number of large canvases in the Semi Finals

artists realise Judges want more and more

  • the third large canvas didn’t really seem like a portrait to me since it had a small head and failed to capture a likeness. I suspected the same thing might happen again
  • three small medium size paintings captured head and shoulder views
  • two portraits were smaller still – one was well painted and the other rather less so

Decision Making

The Sitters’ Choice

I thought it was interesting that Rebecca Ferguson she was going with the portrait which would fit best in her home. It was a nice way of saying both “I’m not commenting on who’s best” and “I’m just an ordinary person like anybody else – it needs to fit in with me”. 

Rebecca chose the rather abstract portrait by Tim Tozer – and I think everyone was rather surprised – including Tim!

Rebecca Ferguson by Tim Tozer was Rebecca’s choice

He was frank about it – he prefers informality and obliqueness – and this was very formal and head-on. He has started with Lime Green and worked with a lot of seemingly random abstract mark-making which rather suggested he was way out of his comfort zone. He chose to do the full figure and include all the dress and some of the glitzy background. The big issue for him was that at some point he had to paint the face – and like I said in my previous posts, Tim doesn’t paint faces! He’s very much a figurative painter rather than a portrait artist. There’s at least one artist in every semi-finals where I wonder why the Judges don’t also look at the artists’ websites.

What the Judges were looking for

What they say they’re looking for and what influences their decisions may be the same sort of thing – or may not!

Judges Criteria

Near the beginning of the programme, each of the Judges said what they’d be looking for from the semi-finalists

  • Tai Shan Schierenberg wants 
    • to see growth and development from the artists and 
    • to see them to respond to what’s offer
  • Kathleen wants the artists to demonstrate that they’re commissionable

Judges deliberations halfway

I always think the Judges comments reflect who they are. Kathleen is a very experienced curator in the old school sense and often recognises the emotional struggles of the artist. Kate is described as an art historian but her work involves her being much more commercially astute and marketing oriented. Tai just sees it all as painting – and what’s going wrong or right.

Halfway through the deliberations included the following:

  • Jude – might be suffering from the beautiful woman curse. Not sure how she was going to get her stylised approach going. I thought the main problem was she simply did not have a good likeness nor the experience to cope with this sort of competition.
    • Subsequently she announced she was having a wobble. She’d gone for a walk and had looked at everybody else’s paintings which hadn’t helped. 
  • Owen had changed his palette so as to avoid the muddy colours he developed in the heat – which makes me wonder why they chose him. However he’s not achieved a good likeness.
  • Morag still had no colour down at half-time (lunch). They recognise that getting her febrile outline right takes her a long time. Personally I thought she was maybe having a serious wobble and was feeling rather overwhelmed.
  • “I’m on the brink of tears. There’s a lot of emotion going on”

  • Kate thought Tim was interested in the lime green coming through and interrupting – it was looking messy and ‘informalised’ whereas Kathleen recognised that he was struggling and would be fighting with the face. Tai recognised that

“her head is very small which creates problems for creating a likeness” 

  • Noah was painting big again (but head and shoulders again) and it was very sculptural was being very bold in his use of colour. Kate didn’t think it was particularly good looking. Judges were hoping the colours might become more refined and lighten up and end up with Rebecca looking more like Rebecca
  • Nina – they reminded us was here because of her sense of composition and beautiful use of colour – which seemed a very odd comment to me as much of the portrait was very muted. Tai thought she had a stunning head despite very little being there. I didn’t agree.
    • However later in she was adding in gold paint which got a plaudit for being brave as she’s never used it before. 
  • Binny had gone for a very large and fine head. Judges were hoping that it might get fine tuned in the afternoon and would demonstrate more in character by the end of the afternoon
  • Keren has recognised as having gone bigger but was still very ‘photographic’ – and copying a photograph. Although she had captured a good likeness. However she was absolutely amazing at developing skin colours and getting her paint down fast. The big question was about how to demonstrate it was more than technical craft – “where is the artistry?”

For me – before the final judgement – the absolute ‘no hopers’ were Owen, Jude and Tim on the basis of poor likeness and a tiny face with only a suggestion of a likeness.

Judges final decision-making

This is my summary of each artist – by the Judges (and me)!

  • Jude – it looked delicate this morning they’d hoped she’s be more experimental; she’d included the sparkles but she did them on her terms and made them matt. I thought it wasn’t a very good likeness in shape or accuracy.
  • Morag – they felt she’d got a strong sense of the person and that her style involved mark-making – which meant it wasn’t just about what was there but also what was not and the emotional turmoil behind it. I was glad she’d finished given where it was at at halfway and that it carried the impact of the figure – if not the best likeness
  • Owen – seen as struggling with the likeness (and I very much agree – it looked nothing like Rebecca). It demonstrated a joy in the use of paint.
  • Tim – had created a painting which resembled an apocalyptic forest with the crazy lime fgreen- which worked fantastically well for Kate whereas others were concerned about the smallness of the head – and I think he simply isn’t a portrait painter and would be a huge risk to take through to the final
  • Noah – demonstrated unapologetic brushwork but Tai thought he needed some finer work to achieve better transitions. I wasn’t surprised he stuck to what he knows best (painting heads) but that he’d done better than I was expecting
  • Nina – not a strong likeness but a strong painting. I like Nina’s painting a lot but can’t reconcile the lack of a good likeness with the fact this is a painting competition.
  • Binny – went monumental and produced a big sculptural shape which also conveyed the personality of the sitter in terms of her sadness, vulnerability, quiet nervousness and gentleness. Kathleen also observed that she was a reliable artist with a safe pair of hands – and I very much agree with Kathleen
  • Keren – her background was too flat (somebody need to go look at some of Lucian Freud’s paintings at the National – which is what I was doing yesterday afternoon before pronouncing like that!!). They recognised her incredible talent and speed in terms of painting skin. I thought she was in with a shout – except that there was a distinct contrast between the moulding of the skin and the flatness elsewhere.

The Finalists

The lineup for the announcement of the finalists

The Finalists are – in the order they were announced

  • Morag Caister
  • Binny Mathews
  • Nina Ruminska

Good to see a contrast to the three men last year!

These are their portraits

The portraits produced by
(left to right) Morag Caister,  Nina Ruminska and Binny Mathews

Next week it’s THE FINAL!

Sky Arts Artist of the Year – REFERENCE

If you want to look back at reviews of previous series you can find links to them in
This year’s heats are: