After taking nearly three months to complete a portrait of UK’s Double Olympic Athletic Champion, Dame Kelly Holmes, Zimbabwe-born artist Craig Wylie was recently honoured by having his work displayed at the National Portrait Gallery in London.
Wylie’s portrait, a large-scale (172 cm x 115 cm) head and shoulders oil painting, was commissioned as part of the First Prize in the BP Portrait Award competition at the gallery in 2008.
“It’s very exciting to have a painting of mine up on the walls of one of the most prestigious galleries in the world and having Dame Kelly Holmes herself attending the unveiling of the work event,” said Wylie. Each year, the National Portrait Gallery holds an annual open exhibition sponsored by BP, of contemporary portraiture from applicants around the world, showing between 50 and 70 works each year from entries numbering around 2 500.
Wylie said he was selected for the show three years running before finally winning in 2008 and as a result, he was last year commissioned to paint Holmes, the double gold winning British Olympic athlete.
“In the portrait I did not particularly want to portray anything specific about her, but rather let her presence and physicality inform the work, allowing for a multiplicity of different interpretations,” he added.
Wylie was born in Masvingo in 1973. He attended Lewisham School and St John’s College in Harare before going on to Rhodes University in South Africa, where he enrolled initially to do Journalism, but began Fine Art studies as well in his second year. He graduated with distinction.
In 1998 he moved to the UK to try and further his artistic development, travelling back to Zimbabwe regularly and he managed to win several prizes for his work including the BP Prize for Portraiture at the National Portrait Gallery and winner of the London Region prize at the Hunting Prizes Exhibition at the Royal College of Arts.
Wylie now exhibits internationally, having shown in London, New York, Paris, Hong Kong, Germany, Belgium, South Africa and in Zimbabwe with Helen Leiros and Derek Huggins at the Delta Gallery.
“My mother Gillian Atherstone is probably genetically responsible for my artistic path being artistic herself, as she was the curator at the National Gallery of Zimbabwe in the 1980s, putting together their collection of traditional Shona artifacts and founding Dendera Gallery in the ’90s,” he said.
He said he had also made many Zimbabwean related works in the past with the last being a large (oil on canvas) portrait of another Zimbabwean friend of his named Charlotte Khatso and an earlier piece concerned with political violence in Zimbabwe showing a man’s head with an oxygen mask lying down, all painted in blue (oil on canvas).