Welcome to part 4 in my series of 6 posts about this year’s Threadneedle Prize for Figurative Painting and Sculpture. The grand prize of £30,000 has already been shared between painter Lisa Wright and printmaker Clare McCormack but among the other 110 or so works are a number of intriguing, beautiful and well crafted paintings. 3 of these have been painted by the artist Sarah Ball, and are entitled ‘Activist I‘, ‘Activist II‘ and ‘Activist III‘.
These 3 paintings each measure 13cm x 18cm, and follow the tradition of miniature portrait painting. Throughout art history miniature portraiture was used often as a means of introducing the appearance of one nobleman to another over large distances, for example, a miniature of a girl may be sent by her father to potential suitors. In stark contrast to the fine ladies and noblemen of the past, Sarah Ball has chosen to paint down-and-outs, oddballs, circus-folk and others in her series of miniature portraits, all of which depict the sitter against a warm grey, or other very neutral, plain background. In the 3 paintings showing at the Threadneedle prize, the 3 activists stare at you with deadpan, and as a result comical expressions on their faces. Their appearance makes them look as if the (photographic?) reference material may have been taken after a protest in the 70s, but the manner in which they are painted is very much reminiscent of the painterliness of a traditional 19th century portrait. The paintings themselves are by no means photographic; these works are rich with the characteristics of fine oil painting, right down to the intricate detail of a patterned floral shirt. In a postmodern and humorous fashion, Ball is asking us to look at the men in the same way that we might a Parisian gent from the 19th century, demanding our attention so that we might celebrate them for all their uniqueness and wonder as characterful human beings.
Lisa: Where did you find your Activists and what were they activists of?
Sarah: The three paintings in the Threadneedle exhibition are part of an on-going work that uses archived Police photographs of criminals (mugshots) as the start. The crimes committed by the sitters are varied. The ‘Activists’ here are Civil Rights protestors and date from the 50/60/70’s in America. (I have just had an exhibition of 45 ‘Accused’ at Millennium gallery in St Ives – it finished at the end of August).
Lisa: What were you hoping to achieve with these paintings?
Sarah: I use the mugshot as a start but making the painting ‘right’ is the main aim. Not so much in creating a photo realistic representation , but hoping to get a ‘feel’ of the person. It has to work as a painting in terms of composition, mood, colour etc – that comes first.
Lisa: Please tell us how your use of colour has allowed you to create a certain mood or feeling?
Sarah: The colour is very muted, maybe a little clinical – the sitters have a mixture of defiance and bewilderment. I hope to capture that.
Lisa: Do you make your own gesso panels and if so, any tips?!
Sarah: I don’t make my own panels as, at the moment my studio is very small but use the Belle – Arti range.
Lisa: What art materials could you not do without?
Sarah: The materials I could not do without are Pro Arte Miniature brushes. They are extremely thin but stand up to a lot of work – I get through hundreds of them.
Lisa: Where can we see more of your work (online and in the flesh)?
Visitors are invited to vote for their favourite paintings – if you think Sarah Ball’s ‘Activist I’, ‘Activist II’ or ‘Activist III’ should be awarded the £10,000 Visitor’s Choice Award remember to vote for work #7, #8 or #9 when you pay a visit to the Threadneedle.
The Threadneedle Prize for Painting and Sculpture is open daily from 10am – 5pm from the 25th September – 12th October 2013. Admission Free.
The Threadneedle Prize for Painting & Sculpture 2013, at The Mall Galleries, The Mall (near Trafalgar Square), SW1 All images are copyright of the artist.