That's SO Graham Norton: Belfast man wins Sky Portrait Artist of the Year

Gareth Reid’s portrait of his distant relative Irish TV presenter Graham Norton is now on view in the National Gallery of Ireland

Belfast-born artist Gareth Reid's portrait of broadcaster and writer Graham Norton is now on display at the National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin. Reid won the £10,000 commission by becoming Sky Portrait Artist of the Year 2017, emerging from a field of 54 contenders.

As part of the competition, he completed portraits of actress Imelda Staunton and television and radio presenter Adrian Chiles. Commenting on working under the pressure of television cameras, lights and microphones, he said: "The lead-up is very stressful, because you don't know who the subject is and you've no control over the setting, the pose, the angle, anything. But as soon as I start to work I feel weirdly comfortable. I think many artists felt that way."

He had two months to complete Norton’s portrait, with four weeks of fairly intensive work. “There were three earlier incarnations so there were several changes along the way. At one point it was a very cropped, close-up view, but it just seemed too overpowering.”

Although he is based in Glasgow, he and his family spend most of each summer in Co Kerry. “I had the idea of getting Graham out into that kind of setting, and he was agreeable. In fact he was open to whatever way I wanted to do it. He was very engaging, nice, always amenable.”


As it happens, Norton's appearance on Who Do You Think You Are? had thrown up the possibility that he and Reid are distantly related, and that proved to be the case. Their great-grandparents were siblings. "I couldn't believe how casual my dad was about telling me that. He never mentioned it while I was working on the portrait."

Reid studied in Belfast before going on to Glasgow School of Art. After graduating he stayed on. “Culturally, it’s a good town. It’s not too big. Studio space is abundant. You feel there is room for artists there, so artists like it.” If there is a downside, he notes, it’s the rain.

Drawing has been at the heart of Reid’s work from the beginning: he teaches life drawing. “There were several years where I did no painting whatsoever,” he says. “Drawing was always dominant. I always thought the painting would catch up with the drawing, but it never quite did, though it’s closer now.”

With both drawings and paintings he’s concentrated on portraits, figures and landscape, rendered with quiet, immensely assured realism. He’s a former winner of the BP Travel Award and a five-times exhibitor in the BP Portrait Award Exhibition. He shows with the Molesworth Gallery in Dublin and his next exhibition there will be this coming June.

The Sky Arts Portrait of the Year series is available to view on Sky’s on demand service. Next week’s episode, on March 21st at 9pm, will focus on Reid’s work and career.

Aidan Dunne

Aidan Dunne

Aidan Dunne is visual arts critic and contributor to The Irish Times