Losers make a show of themselves
Artists whose entries for the BP Portrait Award were rejected are putting on their own exhibition. Lena Corner gets a preview
Sunday 12 June 2011
When Adam Laurence entered a painting in the annual BP Portrait Award earlier this year, he was one of 2,372 hopefuls. The portrait he submitted, a joint effort with fellow artist Peter Jesset, was of their friend George who runs a hardware shop in Bethnal Green, east London, done in acrylic on canvas.
If he's honest about it, Laurence didn't hold out much hope. He'd entered before in 2006 but got rejected. The award is now recognised as one of most prestigious in the world, with just 55 works getting picked for a show in the National Portrait Gallery, so competition is fierce. When he duly got the rejection letter from BP he wasn't that surprised.
"I remember the sense of shame I felt in 2006, collecting the work from the depot and it was obvious that this was a common experience," says Laurence. "The streets were cluttered with self-conscious artists, tucking canvases under their arms and scuttling away as quick as possible."
This time however, he decided to do things a little differently. When he went to the collection point at Arnold Circus in London where BP employees were handing back all the works that it deemed had not cut the mustard, he went armed with leaflets inviting the artists to display them in an alternative exhibition. The show would be called Dazed and Refused and would open under an east London railway arch on the same day as its glitzier National Portrait Gallery counterpart. The idea obviously hit a nerve – in less than two weeks the Dazed and Refused website had got nearly 200,000 hits.
"This isn't about sticking two fingers up at BP," Laurence is keen to point out. "The interesting thing about this body of work is the variety – it is a much better barometer than the BP exhibition itself. What a waste not to exhibit them."
It's an idea, says Laurence, that has its roots in a long artistic tradition which started in 1830s France when artists who had been rejected by the official Paris Salon began mounting their own small-scale shows. This reached a peak in 1863 when some 3,000 works were rejected, including works by greats such as Manet and Whistler. Out of this the Salon Des Refusés was born. "It would be a bit like Damien Hirst putting in an entry today and getting turned down," says Laurence. "Though the odds of success in entering the BP Portrait exhibition are actually far slimmer than the Salon exhibitions of the 1860s and '70s," he notes.
Just like the NPG show, Dazed and Refused now has 55 artists due to exhibit. Works include a piece entitled Shades of Regret by self-taught artist John Adams. "I have developed my own style of working which would probably horrify most artists," he says.
There is also Heloise Toop who has done a portrait of Big Brother winner Brian Belo "I wanted to capture a side of him which wasn't the one everybody knew from television," she says. "He had me in stitches while he posed for me, however, he also has a very thoughtful, quieter side which I was keen to get across."
There is another piece by Boston artist Anya Smolnikova which optimistically comes with an £86,000 price tag (most of the paintings in Dazed and Refused are for sale). And rather more downbeat is a piece entitled Smothered Hope by Andris Wood who has entered and been rejected every year since 2001. "After five years of refusal I made the Portrait Awards a mission," he says. "After eight years I just became increasingly frustrated and depressed. Now I have just come to expect it."
As Laurence says, the range, as well as the quality, is mixed (none of those exhibiting has ever been accepted for the BP Portrait Award exhibition). Alongside the self-taught artists there are graduates straight out of art school and some – Laurence and Jesset – for example, who have had long working careers in the art world.
So far BP hasn't acknowledged the work of these refused-niks, but Laurence believes it's only a matter of time. "I really believe BP are missing a trick," he says, "it's a big waste for all these people who have taken all this time to do all this work. They aren't in it for the prize money, they do it because they want to be in a show."
BBC Trust agrees to axe channel from TV in favour of digital moveTV
Final Top Gear reviewTV
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Humans of New York image of crying gay teen receives best response from Ellen DeGeneres
- 2 What supermodels really think about posing in the nude
- 3 People all over the world are getting semicolon tattoos to draw attention to mental health
- 4 Swedish minister gives strongest case yet on why EU should stop turning away asylum seekers
- 5 Chris Moyles reportedly set to make radio comeback with new breakfast show on XFM
Amy Winehouse film director: 'I wanted to show the fun, bright-eyed girl we didn't know'
James Blunt was special guest on the highest-rating Top Gear episode ever
Chris Moyles reportedly set to make radio comeback with new breakfast show on XFM
Contemporary art is a fraud, says top dealer
Family Guy, BBC2 - review: The Simpsons crossover highlights gulf between the cartoons
More Britons believe that multiculturalism makes the country worse - not better, says poll
Nathan Collier: Montana man inspired by same-sex marriage ruling requests right to wed two wives
Osborne to cap family benefits at £23,000 – announced ahead of his post-election Budget
Greece crisis: IMF was pushed around by Angela Merkel and Nicholas Sarkozy – and now it is being humiliated
Forget little green men – aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert
Girl, 7, stares down hate preacher at Ohio festival with pro-LGBT rainbow flag gesture