In 2017 Mark Roscoe won the Jackson’s Open Painting Prize with his portrait ‘Eniola Sokalu’ painted in oils. With a painstaking approach to painting the surface textures of the subject, the portrait of Eniola conveyed both her strength and vulnerability. We are delighted that Mark has been able to take a place on this year’s Expert Judging Panel. We asked him what’s been up to since JOPP 2017 and what he’ll be looking for when judging our next big competition.
Lisa: What did winning the 2017 Jackson’s Open Painting Prize mean to you?
Mark: When I received the e-mail I think my wife and I spent a few minutes jumping up and down in the kitchen, as you do, I was ecstatic, then the reality started to kick in and it all became very surreal.
I’m sure there was around 2000 initial entries to the competition so to have won first prize was a great achievement but at the same time very very lucky. I also felt it was a win for portraiture itself, being that there was quite a number of portraits in the final 25 shortlisted works.
Lisa: How do you go about a portrait commission usually? Do you have to spend time getting to know your subjects prior to working out a concept, and how many sittings do you usually arrange?
Mark: After we have discussed and agreed on the terms of the commission, i.e. the canvas size, the content, the timescale and the cost, I will arrange two initial sittings with the person being painted, more sittings would obviously be required if it was a group portrait.
The ideal composition normally presents itself to us during these sittings as I try to keep the atmosphere as relaxed and informal as possible. I do most of the work in my studio and will sometimes return with the painting for one final sitting so that the client has a say with the final touches.
Lisa: How much do you feel you have to compromise your own artistic vision in order to please the people that commission your work?
Mark: There is a saying; “He who pays the piper calls the tune” and its very true, and fair to be honest. The client is paying a great deal of money for a service and quite rightly should be happy with the finished product and the overall experience.
Occasionally though I have had an ideal composition in mind and even after expressing how amazing it could be, the client still opts for something else. It can be a little frustrating at times because artists who work on commissions are judged by their latest work, whether it is good or bad.
I do believe there is an art to the “portrait commission” but that’s another story for another time.
Lisa: What’s the most rewarding portrait commission you have ever undertaken?
Mark: I realise this is what I’m probably meant to say but the truth is, every portrait commission that I’ve done has been extremely rewarding in one way or another. I work from home so it doesn’t take long before each new face becomes so familiar that he or she feels like part of our family and then its especially rewarding when that portrait is then well received by the sitter’s family. It all feels connected in some way.
Lisa: Can you describe your studio space to us?
Mark: My studio is a mess right now with so many primed canvases and frames ready to go, three easels, photography equipment, lots of books and an exercise bike that I used much too long ago. Its a converted garage attached to our house with a door leading to our family living room and a patio door/window leading to our garden. At the moment I’m running out of space in the studio and spilling out into the living room. This is quite nice though as there’s a real wood burning open fire often on at this time of year and I’m literally painting beside my children as they play, read or watch television. My children never fight, ha ha.
Lisa: How much of the process do your sitters get to see before the final work is unveiled usually?
Mark: I’m one of those artists who hates to let anyone see the finished work before I’m happy with it because they inevitably comment on an area that is unfinished. If the sitter insists then I’ll give them a preview, I’ll turn it around if it’s a life sitting or I’ll send them a jpeg via e-mail if I’m working on it in my studio.
Lisa: We’re delighted that you are a judge for the 2018 Jackson’s Open Painting Prize. What will you be looking for?
Mark: I’m delighted too! Very pleased to be asked and I’m looking forward to it. It’s a painting prize with no specific theme so there is quite a wide range of possibilities. From these I will be looking for something that is bold, daring or original or something so quiet it’s almost invisible. I would also like to see something particularly beautiful or ugly or both at the same time. I would also like to see something with a high level of technical efficiency or at the other extreme an effortless example of painterly mark making. I also like narrative and conceptual art, paintings with perhaps more meaning than aesthetic appeal.
It’s going to be tough but I’ll give it my best.
Lisa: What are you working on at the moment?
Mark: I’m working through a long list of official commissions that will keep me busy until the beginning of 2019 at least. I had another commission confirmed yesterday and am going to meet with someone next week about another. At the time of writing this I’m working on a portrait of a well known Indian Industrialist, inventor and philanthropist, I would mention his name but I’ve been asked to keep it private. The only drawback to being so busy is that there is little or no time for my own work or for art or portrait competitions which I enjoy.
Lisa: Where online or in the flesh can we view more of your work?
Mark: You can view my portraits online at my website www.markroscoe.com
Or at the Royal Society of Portrait painters website www.therp.co.uk
You can also see some of my portraits every year at the RSPP Annual Exhibition at the Mall Galleries.
I’m sorry but you can only see my “Art” on the walls of my house or rolled up in my attic but watch this space.
Header Image: ‘Big Purple Thing’ by Mark Roscoe, Oil on linen, 40 x 50in