Self-taught Thai artist Jiab Prachakul has won the 2020 BP Portrait Award for her painting “Night Talk,” which depicts two friends interacting at a bar in Berlin. 

Held at the National Portrait Gallery in London, UK, the annual portraiture competition is widely regarded as one of the most prestigious in the contemporary art world and is now in its 40th year (formerly known as the John Player Portrait Award). When the competition started out, it was restricted to UK residents but is now unrestricted and this year welcomed 1,981 entries from 69 countries, with prize money set at £35,000 (B1,378,700).
As reported by The Guardian, “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.” Of the portrait, Prachakul says, “I do believe that our circle of friends is what makes us who we are. Jeonga and Makoto [her Korean and Japanese friends depicted in the portrait] are like family to me. We are all outsiders, Asian artists living abroad, and their deep friendship has offered me a ground on where I can stand and embrace my own identity.”
According to the National Portrait Gallery, Prachakul was born in 1979 in Nakhon Phanom. She studied filmography at Thammasat University before working as a casting director at a Bangkok production company, finding talent for advertising campaigns. She was inspired to become an artist after relocating to London in 2006, where she visited a David Hockney retrospective at the National Portrait Gallery. She then moved to Berlin in 2008, where the winning portrait is set. She now lives in Lyon, France.
Following mounting pressure over the competition’s sponsorship by BP, this was the first year since 1997 that the oil giant had no representative on the judging panel. Due to the Covid-19 crisis, all of the selected works for the competition are displayed in a virtual gallery for the first time, which you can visit here.
“Night Talk” by Jiab Prachakul; image from the National Portrait Gallery