2007 - 2021

Portraying BP – Art Not Oil in Edinburgh

As the annual climate talks in Katowice end, after a fortnight of stalling by companies masquerading as countries and mass corporate greenwash, so begins the BP Portrait Award in Edinburgh:

“The BP Portrait Award is the most prestigious portrait painting competition in the world and represents the very best in contemporary portrait painting. With a first prize of £35,000, and a total prize fund of £74,000, the Award is aimed at encouraging artists to focus upon and develop portraiture in their work. Over the years this has attracted over 40,000 entries from more than 100 countries.

A fixture at the National Portrait Gallery, London for 39 years – 29 of which have been sponsored by BP – the BP Portrait Award is now in its ninth year at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, and continues to be an unmissable highlight of the annual art calendar.”

As Mel Evans, author or Artwash says:

“If we are to consider a future beyond fossil fuel and that’s what the divestment movement and climate movement is looking towards, we can’t let our minds be filtered by big oil. Corporate sponsorship poses a threat to us … it is a cynical PR strategy.

“Oil companies like BP don’t do this sponsorship generously, they do it because they desperately want an association with galleries like Tate and the British Museum in order to cover up damage that they are doing around the world and ‘artwash’ their image. They don’t deserve this public image scoring and we want to take that away from them.”

In 2016 BP was forced to end its 26 year long sponsorship of the Tate Gallery.

Art doesn’t and can’t happen in a political vacuum.

Even the most tortuously banal forms happen in the context of climate breakdown.

Even in the capital city of a country nostalgically in love with oil, even in a country whose media can’t cope with the climate crisis and slavishly fawns over fossil fuel, this remains true.

Oil has been shut out of many of the high-profile arts sponsorship deals in recent years as its toxic activities become un-sellable even to the most desperate bidder.



Comments (13)

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  1. Paul Carline says:

    There is no climate crisis. It’s extremely disappointing to see Bella perpetuating this deception.

    1. Oh god Paul.

      Ok – explain to us why there is no climate crisis …

  2. Robbie says:

    Aye Paul depends on what planet your on, there,s. Certainly one here on earth

  3. Elaine Fraser says:

    I was pretty sure there was a climate crisis but then Patrick Harvie kindly explained to me that science doesn’t alway count for much . All depends on the topic of the conversation really. Silly me. Must pay attention.

    1. Jenny says:

      Explain please? Because I’m pretty sure that Patrick and the Scottish Greens are the only party to have put forward credible policies to tackle the climate emergency.

  4. Jenny Tizard says:

    It’s incredibly brave of any public art event/forum to renounce sponsorship. But they do when there are high profile campaigns.
    The art wash image is really powerful. And the BP images in the article.
    Maybe there need to be mass die-ins. Or blockades and demos at the National Gallery board meetings.

  5. Colin Campbell says:

    Hmm. No one is saying that fossil fuels are a good thing for the planet but we also have to remember that our modern world cannot function without it. Companies like Bp are merely exploiting a market.
    BP and many other companies are investing huge amounts of money in alternative energies – granted my for pragmatic reasons as otherwise they will die.
    However, sounds a bit churlishand niave in the extreme to take a stance against their sponsorship and then most likely still drive the car to see an art exhibition.
    Out of interest is their a new ‘green’ sponsor for the Portrait Awards?

    1. Odd idea that you cant have art without oil. As I pointed out many galleries with long associations with fossil fuel companies have ditched them as they are simply to toxic in the public mind.

      The alternatives to fossil fuel dependency have long been available in energy, transport and other forms. Would you like me to lost them?

      1. SleepingDog says:

        @Colin Campbell, I hear that’s historically inaccurate (meeting markets). For early USAmerican oil exploiters, petroleum/gasoline was an unsellable byproduct that was dumped in rivers after they had separated out the kerosene that there was an established market for. John D Rockefeller decided to create markets for the non-kerosene constitutents of rock oil.
        The use of fossil fuels for personal motorised vehicles was engineered by capitalists, whose cartels suppressed electric vehicle patents, and remains one of human civilization’s most dire follies.

        Animal wastes traditionally and rationally provided fertiliser (or less rationally with the guano boom), but more profit could be made from oil-based products.

        There is nothing necessary about our misuse of (or government subsidies for) fossil fuels, although there are some specific uses where materials made from long-chain carbon compounds have had greater justification (but can often be replaced by new or traditional alternatives).

        As for BP’s supposed beneficial influence on renewable energies, I think that has been exposed as a fig leaf. In any case, it makes no sense to lock these technologies behind commercial patents (achieved by piggy-backing on publicly-funded research anyway), there should be open technology movements.

  6. Jenny says:

    Edinburgh event against fossil fuel sponsorship of the arts today (Sat 15th) – Carrols not Barrels (organised by BP or nor BP? and Edinburgh Artivism groups )

  7. Robert says:

    There’s a protest against BP sponsorship today (Saturday 15th): Carols not Barrels
    14:45 in St Andrew Square, Edinburgh
    (search Carols not Barrels Edinburgh)

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