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Self-taught artist Jiab Prachakul wins BP portrait award | Art and design

A delicate portrait of friends interacting in a Berlin bar by a self-taught artist has won the 2020 BP portrait award, amid intensifying scrutiny of the oil company’s continued sponsorship of one of the most prestigious prizes in the art world.

Jiab Prachakul’s Night Talk was picked as the winner by the judging panel, which, for the first time since 1997, had no representative from BP on it after continued pressure, including criticism from several former Turner Prize winners.

Selected from 1,981 entries, representing 69 countries, Prachakul’s portrait was called “an evocative portrait of a fleeting moment in time”, which gives a glimpse into someone else’s life that is “beautiful, mysterious and alive”. The judges also praised its bold composition and clever use of contrasting shapes.

The removal of a BP representative from the judging panel was described as “a minor victory” by the artist Gary Hume, who wrote a letter before last year’s event appealing to the National Portrait Gallery (NPG) to drop BP as a sponsor for the prize.

He told the Guardian that he was “incredibly disappointed” that the NPG had not followed the lead of other cultural institutions, such as the Royal Shakespeare Society and National Galleries Scotland, and dropped BP as a sponsor.

Hume also signed a letter backed by 78 artists, including five previous Turner Prize winners, which asked the director of the NPG, Nicholas Cullinan, to end the NPG’s relationship with the oil company that started in 1990.

A spokesperson for the NPG told the Guardian: “The judging panel is refreshed each year to ensure new perspectives are brought to judge the entries. The gallery and BP jointly agreed not to have a sponsor representative on the judging panel this year.”

The spokesperson added the decision was not influenced by high-profile campaign work last year, a statement that was dismissed by the pressure group Culture Unstained. The spokesperson added: “The government needs to urgently commit to properly funding the cultural sector so that organisations can weather the challenges of Covid-19.”

Prachakul, who is originally from Thailand and took up painting after seeing a David Hockney exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery, was a first-time nominee and takes home the £35,000 first prize.

The second prize, worth £12,000, was awarded to the Russian artist Sergei Svetlakov, while the £10,000 third prize went to Michael Youds, who is a gallery attendant at the National Galleries of Scotland.

Prachakul came to London in 2006, where she saw the Hockney show and decided to become an artist, moving to Berlin in 2008, which is where the winning portrait is set. The artist explained that the winning work “explores notions of individual identity and how perceptions of selfhood can change over time”, and is of two close friends.

The Covid-19 lockdown restrictions mean that for the first time all the works selected for the BP Portrait Award 2020 exhibition are on display in a virtual space that replicates the NPG, which remains closed.

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