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Gallery attendant shortlisted for top portrait prize

Labour Of Love by Michael Youds, 2019 (Michael Youds)
Labour Of Love by Michael Youds, 2019 (Michael Youds)

A gallery attendant who also works as an artist has been shortlisted for a top portrait prize.

Michael Youds keeps an eye on the artworks at the National Galleries Of Scotland, but the 38-year-old is also an artist who devotes much of his free time to painting portraits and still life.

He has been shortlisted for this year’s BP Portrait Award for his painting of Tommy Robertson, the owner of an independent music store in Edinburgh which has been in business for more than three decades.

Night Talk by Jiab Prachakul, 2019 (Jiab Prachakul/PA)

“It’s a very detailed painting,” Youds, originally from Blackburn, Lancashire, said of Labour Of Love.

“I wanted the viewer to feel like they are inside the shop and maybe a little overwhelmed, not knowing what to focus their attention on.

“Visually, Tommy is engaging and the background is equally interesting. You could probably find something different in the painting each time you looked at it.”

Youds previously won first prize in the Scottish Portrait Awards for a painting featuring himself and his twin brother.

Portrait of Denis: Actor, Juggler And Fashion Model by Sergey Svetlakov, 2019 (Sergey Svetlakov/PA)

The BP Portrait Award 2020 will open as an online exhibition in May while the National Portrait Gallery in London is closed because of the coronavirus pandemic.

All 48 works selected for the exhibition will be shown in a virtual gallery space replicating the National Portrait Gallery rooms which are usually home to the show.

Two other portraits are in the running for the £35,000 first prize.

Night Talk by Jiab Prachakul portrays the artist’s close friends, Jeonga and Makoto, in a Berlin bar on an autumn evening.

Prachakul, 40, is a self-taught artist, originally from Thailand, who decided she wanted to be an artist after seeing a David Hockney retrospective.

The artist, who lives in Lyon, France, said: “I do believe that our circle of friends is what makes us who we are. Jeonga and Makoto are like family to me.

“We are all outsiders, Asian artists living abroad, and their deep friendship has offered me a ground on where I can stand and embrace my own identity.”

Sergey Svetlakov, who lives in the Russian city St Petersburg, is shortlisted for Portrait Of Denis: Actor, Juggler and Fashion Model, a sitter he found online.

The National Portrait Gallery
The National Portrait Gallery (John Walton/PA)

“My sitters are usually ordinary people with various types of social backgrounds,” Svetlakov, 58, said.

“Because Denis is an actor, he is very emotional and his face constantly changes depending on his mood. When I painted him he was desperately searching for work and I found it interesting to convey his intense ambitions and doubts. His face is an explosive fusion of his Ukrainian, Russian, Greek and Tatar genes.”

The shortlisted portraits were selected from 1,981 entries from 69 countries and selected anonymously by a judging panel chaired by the gallery’s director, Nicholas Cullinan.

He said: “I am pleased we have been able to find a way to share the BP Portrait Award 2020 exhibition with our visitors at home during this uncertain time, and hope that staging a virtual exhibition will provide us with the opportunity to bring the very best in contemporary portrait painting to an even wider audience.”

The National Portrait Gallery is among several institutions which have been criticised because of ties with oil giant BP, which is sponsoring the prize.

Des Violaris, director of UK arts and culture and Paralympics at BP, said: “BP believes that access to the arts helps to build a more inspired and creative society, so it’s especially exciting to open the exhibition up to a whole new audience online.”

The exhibition will open online on May 5, when the winner is also announced on the National Portrait Gallery’s social media channels. 

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