RBSA Portrait Prize 2019 artist highlights

The biennial Portrait Prize is one of the RBSA’s most popular exhibitions, and attracts talented artists from across the UK and beyond. It is on now until 31 August. This year’s show was selected by professional portrait painters John Devane (also our Professor of Painting), Robert Neil VP PPRBSA, Sara Shamma, and Jonathan Waller.

The exhibition is also a great opportunity for established and budding art collectors, with most artworks for sale and prices beginning at £115.

Portrait commissions can also be enquired about at the Gallery’s ground floor desk. Here are some highlights from the show…

Claire Sparkes Criminal Damage Watercolour and Pencil, £920


Claire Sparkes is a figurative painter whose artwork focuses on portraiture while also encompassing still life, interiors and landscapes. She is a member of the Society of Graphic Fine Art.

Criminal Damage is one of a series of watercolour paintings I have made symbolically using the checkerboard pattern to discuss duality and polarities in human life. Life and death, sacred and profane, good and bad, all co-exist in an often precarious balance.”

Claire has elsewhere explained her unique approach to tackling portraits:

“The landscape of the face reveals specific journeys. At once focused beyond the surface, I am fascinated by surface details, and the instability of physical layers. Body language describes personality, as do personal objects through their associations. I consider still life works to be portraits without sitters.”

Robert Page RBSA Alan reading Bronze on Hornton Stone, £2,900


Robert Page is an elected Associate of the RBSA. He has been a regular exhibitor at the Herbert Art Gallery, Coventry, and the RBSA since 2011. His primary interest is portrait sculpture with a continuing theme exploring classical myths. Robert first became fascinated by sculpture when he saw Epstein’s Lucifer in the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery as a teenager.

“Portraiture has been, and always will be, my prime interest. I find people-watching endlessly fascinating and particularly when they are in extreme situations. So, for example, an actor playing King Lear offers a rich seam of inspiration.”

This is Robert’s fourth consecutive success having his work shown in the Portrait Prize. The initial constructive stages of his sculpture Alan reading took place in the RBSA’s Gallery 2, during the 2017 Portrait Prize showing.

Pete Underhill Spider II and Mister Spencer Oil on Panel, £1,500


Pete Underhill is a portrait artist specialising in contemporary realism. His Spider II and Mister Spencer raises questions about whether the spectacularly rendered automobile can be considered a portrait in itself.

Pete provided the RBSA with some background information about the painting:

“In 2017, I attended the Chateau Impney Hill Climb in Bromsgrove, Worcestershire, where I became captivated by some of the delightfully individual cars and their equally fascinating custodians. I knew immediately that I wanted to celebrate something of them in a painting.”

“In painting this piece, it was my intention to emulate George Stubbs and depict a thoroughbred with its trainer, although with a slightly more mechanical delivery of horsepower.”

The automobile depicted is a Basil Davenport GN Spider. Also included in the painting are several items of trivia. The concrete pig for instance refers to a local legend in Gornal, West Midlands about a family placing a pig on a wall to watch a military procession go by. Free Associated Event:

Quick Portraits and Portrait Demonstration Sat 24 August 11am-1pm and 2pm-4pm

RBSA Artists John Davenport and Francesca Currie will be in the Gallery during the Portrait Prize Exhibition. John will be sketching quick portraits of visitors, and Francesca will be demonstrating her portrait painting.

Booking is essential for the quick portraits. To book please call please call 0121 236 4353. No booking needed to watch Francesca and John at work. For more information click here.

By Alfie Hancox RBSA Art Blog Volunteer

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