‘fml’ was selected to win the GreatArt Prize at the neo:artprize 2015

The judges were:

Ian Davenport – Artist                                                                                                                        Amira Gad – Exhibitions Curator, The Serpentine Galleries, London
Margot Heller – Director, South London Gallery
Helen Pheby – Senior Curator, Yorkshire Sculpture Park

fml, Oil on linen 200cm x 110cm, 2014

fml, in situ, neo:artprize 2015

As part of my research into child abuse I was generating a list of some of the effects that abuse had on children, both in the immediate future and on into adult life.  The list included:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Flashbacks
  • Insomnia & other sleep related issues such as nightmares
  • Self loathing
  • Self harm, self destructive impulses
  • Mood swings
  • Attention seeking behaviour
  • Dissociation and withdrawal
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Academic problems
  • Substance abuse
  • Increased hyper-vigilance
  • Eating disorders
  • Risky sexual decision-making
  • Discomfort with physical touch

I began to realise that I knew a young girl who had suffered from various forms of abuse and was displaying signs of some of the effects; I will refer to her as ‘the girl’. She was a friend of my daughter’s so I felt that I could approach her about becoming involved in my work, and thankfully she agreed.  I am pleased to say that since then her situation and life have improved to the point where she would probably happily leave the past behind her, I therefore only produced one painting from that period of time, ‘fml’.

‘fml’, was the obvious choice of title for this work for so many reasons, but it came predominantly from reading ‘the girl’s’ Facebook statuses over the past few years; they were often dispirited and included the acronym.

During her relatively short life (at the time only just turned 17 years old) she had experienced:

abandonment and homelessness
physical abuse
sexual abuse
mental abuse
mental and physical health issues

Without going into detail it is safe to say that she may not be with us today if it weren’t for the actions of a few of her friends, who helped to pull her up out of the darkness when she couldn’t make it alone.

The ‘Painting’

What I found most interesting about ‘the girl’ is that she didn’t appear to be ‘angry’ about the things that had happened to her; perhaps the anger was locked away, or had been drummed out of her, perhaps she was too exhausted by her troubles to have the energy to be angry, or is it possible that she felt no anger about everything that she has been through?. I was tempted to ask her, but then I remembered that I actually didn’t need to, the work was about my anger, not hers, so I didn’t have to be intrusive. As with my work on Out of the Darkness, I projected my anger onto her face in order to generate the tension I sought in the image.

My ‘portraits’ are not portraits in the traditional sense, where the artist attempts to communicate the ‘likeness’ and presence of the sitter to the audience through their chosen medium; they are the artist communicating the ‘likeness’ of the sitter, but the presence of the artist. One might argue that this is contradictory to what good ‘portraiture’ should be .. as a portrait artist my work should be all about capturing the presence/soul/character of the sitter in whatever form that may take, but I am NOT a portrait artist, and that is not what my work is about.

‘Her face looks a little strange?’

In my methodology the colour palette is always a massive consideration as it plays a part in conveying the mood of a piece of work, so I purposely drained a lot of the reds from the skin tone, favouring a more blue/grey colour palette, to reflect the context of the work.  ‘The girl’, like many young women today, draws her eyebrows on and, at the time was wearing quite a lot of foundation to cover up her, often troubled, skin. Not long before the time of the sittings she had cut off a lot of her hair, due to an unbearable outbreak of eczema, which she was still suffering from at the time.   She was incredibly brave to lay herself open to my scrutiny and raw interpretation at a time when she must have been feeling very insecure about her physical appearance.


Integrity is very important to me, both in my life and my work. With regard to my work I have grown tired of hearing other artists criticise those who work to a photo-realist level of intensity, denouncing it as uncreative or unexpressive, and unnecessary in an age of the photographic portrait. I work to a certain level of photo-realism, if and when my concept demands it, as I believe that there is a connection between an audience and a photo-realist portrait that is different to, for example, an expressively painted portrait or a photograph. It is a myopic point of view that dismisses the three way connection between the artist, the photo-realist portrait and the viewer. At the same time, I don’t feel it is necessary to work to the extremes of photo-realism/ hyper-realism that are possible, because I don’t believe that it is necessary for me to do so in order to make the connection with the audience that I seek.

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