Compton Verney 19 February – 5 June 2022

Compton Verney’s spring season begins with a celebration of nine years of Sky Arts’ most successful TV series, Portrait Artist of the Year.

This commemorative exhibition – a celebration of making – is curated by one of the programme’s judges, independent curator Kathleen Soriano. It features over 120 works, selected from the work of more than 1,000 artists who have taken part in the competition and associated Sky Arts TV programme since it was launched in 2013.

Portrait Artist of the Year

Over the years Portrait Artist of the Year has unearthed, encouraged, and nurtured portrait artists from all walks of life – teachers, surgeons, and security guards – amateur and professional artists, discovering new talents with many going on to establish successful careers make a living from their art.

Showcasing the sheer diversity of the different styles, media and approaches taken to portraiture, the exhibition will also display the work of all past winners with their subsequent prize commissions for major museums and galleries including the National Gallery of Ireland, the British Library and the Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool.

Several famous faces will return the viewer’s gaze, including celebrity sitters such as actors Kim Cattrall and Imelda Staunton, musicians Sir Tom Jones and Nile Rodgers, writers Dame Hilary Mantel and Lemn Sissay, plus broadcasting legends Lord Melvyn Bragg and Graham Norton.

Emily Tull – Lord Melvyn Bragg

The exhibition will highlight the power of art, not least of all for its ability to inspire both a sense of community and creativity during lockdown, especially in relation to supporting mental health and wellbeing. The international community of artists that developed as a direct consequence of the live-streamed Portrait Artist of the Week series on Facebook Live and Sky Arts, a direct response to initial pandemic lockdowns in early 2020, has been testament to the value and importance of bringing people together in a shared and creative experience.

Of course, for any portrait artist, there is no more readily available sitter than themselves – Rembrandt famously documented his changing appearance in dozens of known self-portraits – and Compton Verney devotes a significant amount of its exhibition to this genre. Self-portraiture is at the heart of Portrait Artist of the Year with applicants first submittinga self-portrait in order to enter the competition. It is from these that the judges select those who appear on the TV show, leading to startling and imaginative compositions as the artists vie to stand out from the crowd.

Alastair Faulkner – Self Portrait 2017

The densely hung walls of this section of the exhibition will be hung salon-style, illustrating the great breadth and range of approaches, as well as giving visitors an opportunity to explore each artist’s individual style, from Shanti Panchal’s instantly recognisable hand, which employs the colours of his native India, to Hun Adamoglu’s iconography filled painting that evokes his Cypriot origins; from Irish artist Conor Walton’s self-portrait as a centaur with a scorpion’s tail to Rosso Spotto’s tongue in cheek passport-photo style images.

Rosso Spotto – Lost Identity

Over the years some of our most celebrated academics, writers, comedians, actors, broadcasters and musicians have taken on the challenge of sitting still for 4 hours whilst they hope to inspire the talented artists tasked with capturing their likeness.  The exhibition will feature some of the UK’s most recognisable and accomplished individuals from national treasures such as Tom Courtenay and John Cooper Clarke, to superstars of different artforms, including Pink Floyd’s Nick Mason, Olympian boxer Amir Khan, The Vivienne, winner of Ru Paul’s Drag Race UK 2019, ballet’s Carlos Acosta and Booker Prize-winning author Bernardine Evaristo.

Portrait Artist of the Year is a Storyvault Films production for Sky Arts.

It has been an honour and a privilege to be a judge, alongside Kate Bryan and Tai Shan Schierenberg, on ‘Portrait Artist of the Year’ over the last 9 years and to be celebrating the incredible talent that this Sky Arts TV programme has revealed, genuinely contributing to the development of portraiture and to our great national museum collections. Curating this exhibition for this incredible venue is extra special for me as I have very fond memories of my time there as Director.”

Kathleen Soriano – one of the programme’s judges & independent curator

“One of the most inspirational aspects of Portrait Artist of the Year is the way that it has democratised art, giving people both the confidence to speak about art and express their opinions without fear, and maybe even to pick up a brush or a pencil and create for themselves. That’s why we are so pleased to be hosting this glorious celebration of making at Compton Verney.” 

Julie Finch – Director CEO of Compton Verney

Our three guiding principles at Sky Are Accessibility, Inclusivity and Participation… and ‘Portrait Artist of the Year’ embodies all of those pillars in one perfect programme. Over the years it has evolved into one of the most prestigious and certainly the best-known portrait painting competitions attracting a broad and diverse range of talent as well as encouraging deeper participation in the art form whilst doing a brilliant job of demystifying it along the way. We are thrilled that Kathleen and Compton Verney are staging this incredible exhibition to showcase the talent the show has featured over the years.”

Phil Edgar-Jones – Director of Sky Arts

It’s a rare privilege in TV to make a show in which everyone is a winner.  Many of the 1000-plus artists who have appeared in the series have struggled for years to have their work more widely seen and appreciated, and our terrific production team is immensely proud to have kick-started so many brilliant careers.  We warmly welcome Kathleen’s initiative in showcasing some of the best and most diverse work featured over nine years and thank Compton Verney and Sky Arts for making this outstanding exhibition possible.

Stuart Prebble – Chairman of Storyvault Films

Compton Verney is an extraordinary place, a cultural kaleidoscope, we connect people, art and nature.  We invite you to roam and discover, be yourself, lose yourself and find yourself. Your search for truth and beauty will bring food for thought and a feast for the soul, leaving you feeling uplifted. It is an award-winning gallery, based in a Grade I-listed Georgian mansion amidst 120 acres of Grade II-listed Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown parkland in Warwickshire. With six permanent collections (Naples, Northern European Art 1450-1650, British Portraits, Chinese, British Folk Art & The Marx-Lambert Collection) and a schedule of thought-provoking changing exhibitions and events both outdoors and in. It is an accredited museum, and a registered charity.  

For more information about Compton Verney, visit www.comptonverney.org.uk

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Sky Arts exists to bring more art to more people across the UK. In 2020, with the creative industries under serious threat, we threw open our doors to make the channel free for everyone to watch. We’ve redoubled our mission to increase access to the arts and we’re committed to getting everyone involved as the industry recovers. The fact is, we need the arts now like never before, and Sky Arts brings them straight to your living room. We have something for everyone, championing creative talent by showcasing the best in music, theatre, dance, literature, opera and visual art. From Glyndebourne to Grime and Cézanne to The Style Council, we’ve got your passions covered. Millions of viewers tune in to hit returning series such as Portrait Artist of the YearUrban Myths and British cultural institution The South Bank Show, but our acclaimed new programmes might take you anywhere from Pinter’s house with Danny Dyer to a Scottish road trip with Samuel Johnson.  You can watch Sky Arts for free on Freeview channel 11 and Freesat channel 147.  If you’ve got Sky or a Now TV entertainment pass, you can also watch over 2,000 hours of shows exclusively on demand.  

Storyvault Films is an independent TV production company making a wide range of high-quality factual and factual-entertainment programmes for all the major TV channels in the UK and for international distribution.  Formed in 2009, the company brings together a group of award-winning producers and directors, alongside highly experienced production management and expertise in casting and live and pre-recorded programming. Our slate of programme covers every variety of factual programmes, including revealing access shows, penetrating documentaries and lighter features and arts. Recent productions include Portrait Artist of the Year, Portrait Artist of the Week, Landscape Artist of the Year (Sky Arts), Artist in Residence; The Football Club, (Channel 4) and Sudden Death: my sister’s Silent Killer. (BBC1&3)