NPG Young People’s Private View

A rare, free opportunity to sprawl on the floor of one of the most famous galleries in London

Walking out of Charing Cross Station I was greeted by one of the most famous sights in the world, with Trafalgar Square to one side and the Strand to the other.  It was therefore pretty special to be able to cross the road to the National Portrait Gallery and see a sign reading ‘Private Event.’ The doors opened at 6.30pm, and only people on the guest list were allowed in.

We had a polaroid of us to take home 
This was the setting for the BP Portrait Award: Next Generation Young People’s Private View. It allowed 14-21 year olds the opportunity to have the gallery to themselves and view the entries of the BP Portrait Award 2017 for free. The collection represents ‘the best in contemporary portrait painting’ ranging from studies of friends and family to intimate depictions of famous faces. It’s a display that has been running since 22nd June until 24th September, yet on the evening of the 8th August, it was the backdrop of an exclusive event.

We were given an itinerary of the evening 
After signing in, we were taken into the entrance hall for a bit of milling around and drinking of mocktails. This is why I’d advise you go with friends, as the reception area filled with young people all standing around and chatting means it can be quite daunting to go alone. We were welcomed by the Youth Forum, the group of teens who run events like these at the NPG. We were encouraged to sketch, chat, eat, and pretty much make the most of the evening. There was even an artist working on an iPad who sketched us, the portrait being projected onto the wall behind.

Our portrait from the Drawing Booth projected onto a wall 

We could then enter the collection itself. We were given paper and pencils to encourage us to sit around and sketch, as well as opportunities to enter competitions and win prizes from Cass Art (a great retailer for art supplies- so a really impressive deal.) Everyone got stuck in, sitting in the middle of the floor cross-hatching away. It’s the type of thing these evenings are designed for, as you wouldn’t be able to just plonk yourself down during a normal gallery visit.

People were eager to get sketching straight away 
Competitions encouraged us to pull pieces apart and sketch them 

Live music –from Murdo Mitchell, William Adam Congo Doran, and DJ Aliyah-  also made for a unique atmosphere. As the night is completely free, it’s an impressive feature that contributes to the event feeling exclusive and special. I’d have to point out, however, that the staff were a bit eager when it came to drawing our attention to this. They came up to us almost every 5 minutes it seemed to tell us ‘there’s live music in this room,’ when it was quite obvious we knew this already as the live music was the loudest thing in the entire gallery.

Live music in one of the gallery rooms 

Artist Khushna Sulaman-Butt was also a great addition to the night, as she stood in front of her magnificent painting to tell us about the thought process and techniques behind it. Fellow artist Clara Drummond was also around giving talks and running activities to inspire us to pursue portraiture.
Artist Khushna Sulaman-Butt with her Society 
As for the portraits themselves, they were largely impressive, absorbing in their hidden messages and the motivations behind the artists selecting their sitters. My personal favourites included The Levinsons by Rupert Alexander which surely was inspired by Velazquez’s iconic Les Meninas. Although I’d find it harder to vocalise my reasons, I also loved Pen Vogler by John Burke, perhaps because of the incredibly realistic yellow dress contrasted with the quite cartoonish books, which makes it seem like a New Objectivity painting.

The Levinsons by Rupert Alexander 
Pen Vogler by John Burke 
Other highlights included asking us to take a sharpie and a post-it note and draw two people standing next to us, which allowed for more mingling between the guests and also encouraged us to be more confident with quick sketches, and the importance of simply getting lines onto the page.
The display of our sharpie drawings 

It was a night that signified how much the NPG value its young visitors, and, as young people, it is important for us to take up such opportunities and show we can participate in the art world. If you can’t get to life drawing classes, sketching from artwork is the next best thing, but it can be intimidating to do this on a normal visit, but it isn’t scary at all when surrounded by other students. If I had one criticism it would be that there wasn’t enough vegetarian food available, but maybe I’d just advise you eat before you go, really. Overall, it’s an event I would recommend for next year, as it was a rare and free opportunity to sprawl on the floor of one of the most famous galleries in London.

We covered the floor, with pencils and paper spread out everywhere 

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