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Painted Faces

Loughros Point revisited – Chris Stevens

There aren’t many ways you can improve upon an evening of free champagne. However, Ali Pantony’s private viewing of the finalists’ work at the Saatchi Gallery and Saatchi Online Painted Faces Showdown competition, proved her very wrong.

The Saatchi Gallery and Saatchi Online, in association with Showdown, is a competition for artists from all corners of the world to showcase their work and be judged by internationally acclaimed artists and curators.  It is the first time the company have paired with Windsor & Newton, the producers of some of the finest art materials since 1832, whose head office is home to the wonderful Griffin Gallery on Evesham Street. The Painted Faces Showdown is an opportunity for emerging artists to showcase their, well, ‘painted faces’. And the quality of the portraiture from the 10 finalists is of an unbelievable standard. The Griffin Gallery, a contemporary free gallery which supports artists and encourages new talent, is a five minute walk from Latimer Road tube and hosts the work of the finalists from December 5 – 20. This is not to be missed.

From an original 3,000+ candidates, the Saatchi Online community of artists and curators selected the long-list of 300 artists. This was somehow narrowed down to 30 semi-finalists by Rebecca Wilson, Chief Curator of Saatchi Online and Director of Saatchi Gallery, as well as Rebecca Pelly-Fry, the lovely director of the Griffin Gallery. Finally, internationally renowned artist Chantal Joffe chose the 10 finalists, whose work is currently on display. Miguel Laino with his captivating portrait, ‘Didier’, and Chris Stevens, with ‘Loughros Point revisited’, were the winner and runner-up of the competition. Quite the artistic accomplishment, I think any CV-writer will agree.

Didier – Miguel Laino

It was incredibly difficult to catch winner Miguel Laino for a chat at the private viewing, but as soon as I spotted a momentary intermission in arty confabulation, I very indiscreetly dived in. Before he could take a second sip of his orange juice (meanwhile I was effortlessly glugging my fourth glass of complementary champers), he was answering my many questions on his intriguing piece. After initial essential congratulations, I had to ask the question that had been at the forefront of my mind all evening.  Despite the contemporary nature of the portrait, the emotion and anguish (I thought) in the man’s face is palpable. I had to ask Laino who his subject was. In true artiste fashion, Laino did not give too much away, despite my unsubtle probing.

ML: He is a very close friend of mine, and you can see that he has many thoughts and emotions, he has a lot going on. We are very close and it was wonderful to paint him.

AP: And what are the reasons behind your choice of colour palette? Did you choose monochrome for those same reasons?

ML: Yes, kind of. I paint many colour portraits, and I use a certain level of colour when I feel a certain level of energy [from his subject], but I chose not to do this for ‘Didier’.

Laino continued to tell me more about his painting. Despite its relatively small size (just 11.8 x 9.4 inches), I couldn’t hold back the gasp when he informed me that he completed the piece in just 30 minutes.

ML: When you think too much about the painting you are doing, you almost lose purpose and the original meaning and intention. It’s like, if I tell you too much about the painting, you won’t have your own interpretation anymore.

Laino believes that if he labours over a piece for too long, over-analysing and re-thinking and contemplating, he will lose sight of his original vision and purpose. This ability to produce such high-quality work in just half an hour deserves a lot of admiration and respect. I can’t get much done in half an hour, let alone produce art of this standard, and bag first place in a competition of over 3,000 applicants.  The lack of information Laino divulges about his piece, ensures that the painting remains intriguing and mysterious, and it is with this artistic skill that Laino won the Painted Faces Showdown competition.

It was Chris Stevens’s 35 x 67 inch incredible mixed media piece that grabbed my attention as soon as I entered the exhibition room at the Griffin Gallery, and I honestly have no idea how long I stood in front of it, just looking. The electric turquoise-aqua colour (which Stevens claims is his favourite), acts as a perfect backdrop to Stevens’s fascinating subject. It is the juxtaposition of all the colours in the piece, along with the culmination of the mass amount of media mixing, which ties the piece together as a truly remarkable portrait.  Against the white walls of the Griffin Gallery, the work in real life is not to be missed (and a photograph of a piece of art never does it true justice, as we all know).

As with Laino’s ‘Didier’ (and any exciting portraiture, I suppose), I was intrigued to find out who Stevens’s subject was.

AP: First off I have to ask, who is the man in your painting?

CS: The young man in the painting passed away a few years ago during a tragic football accident… I liked him very much and he was a brilliant man to paint. I suppose the painting acts as a kind of memoir, but not.

This knowledge of Chris’s subject adds a new level of emotion to his work: the piece is an artistic exploration of media, colour and light whilst acting as a means by which to remember the young man who lost his life.

Following discussion of his subject, the conversation turned to the tools used to develop the piece.

AP: I can see you’ve used a lot of different utensils to create your painting, what sort of media did you use?

CS: Well, I enjoy using lots of different mediums that shouldn’t typically be used together. I like the effect it has when different bits flake off when they aren’t supposed to go together… There’s acrylic and oil paint, charcoal and many different varnishes and lots of other things.

It is this medium mixing which provides ‘Loughros Point revisited’ with the unique texture that makes it really stand out from the crowd; the young man looks wistfully dreamy and calm (further adding to the emotion behind the painting), but the free strokes of the background and the different mediums clashing together provide a restless backdrop. To sum up, the piece is just fascinating.

When finally congratulated on his achievement as runner-up, Stevens replies,

CS: But, you know, who remembers the runner-up of the FA cup? [laughs] No, thank you, of course it’s great.

Although Chris was of course joking, I did have to thoroughly disagree.  While I may not remember the last runner-up of the FA cup, his piece, and all other eight finalists’ pieces at the Griffin Gallery, is incredibly memorable, and everyone should make a trip west to the fabulous Griffin Gallery to see for themselves (and for free, might I add).

The other eight finalists were Stephane Villafane (France), Daniel Gonzalez Coves (Germany), Kristina Alisauskaite (Lithuania), Casper Verborg (Netherlands), Silja Selonen (Finland), Fiona Maclean (Australia), Maurice Sapiro (United States) and Minas Halaj (United States).

The Saatchi Online Showdown: ‘Painted Faces’ exhibition will be held at the Griffin Gallery (W11 4AJ) from December 5 – 20.

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