I confess! I've become hooked on a reality TV show - the fabulous Sky Arts Portrait Artist of the Year. So far, I've seen two episodes on Foxtel - the London and Glasgow portrait painting heats - and I can't get enough. In each episode, a group of artists is selected after sending in self-portraits, and brought together in a 'portrait festival' in a UK city. Three high-profile mystery sitters show up and are posed by the judges, whereupon the artists have four hours to complete a portrait. The sitters are then allowed to choose a favourite portrait to take home, and the judges select a winner. The public flock in to watch, and there are various side activities including caricatures, silhouette portraits and workshops.
This is not your average reality TV series. Given that the Sky website has already posted the winner, there's not a lot of suspense. Nor do you have to watch any souped-up-for-our-viewers emotional revelations, shock expulsions, long pauses by judges during which finalists squirm and tremble, or terrible makeovers to make the contestants more acceptable. Instead you get real, solid artwork being created in front of you by real, solid, skilled artists of all ages, backgrounds and levels of experience. The different approaches and levels of finish achieved by the different contestants in four hours are breathtaking. The photos on the website don't do justice to the excellence of most of the works, so it is much better to watch the show than to merely browse the gallery. Well done to the makers of this series - I salute you.
I do miss 'portrait day' at art school. I try to do portraits during life drawing sessions, but you don't get long, and often the model's back is turned. This is a compendium of some of my sitters over the years.