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Art student lands prestigious national portrait triumph

PUBLISHED: 18:15 14 May 2008 | UPDATED: 09:06 12 August 2010

Winner: Benjamin Cohen

Winner: Benjamin Cohen

A YOUNG artist has won his big break by getting his portrait accepted into a prestigious exhibition. Benjamin Cohen, 21, of Hayes Lane, Bromley, had his portrait entitled John accepted for the National Portrait Gallery s BP Portrait Award 2008 on March 2

A YOUNG artist has won his big break by getting his portrait accepted into a prestigious exhibition.

Benjamin Cohen, 21, of Hayes Lane, Bromley, had his portrait entitled John accepted for the National Portrait Gallery's BP Portrait Award 2008 on March 27.

The second-year fine art student at Loughborough University is the youngest entrant to be chosen for the exhibition.

His winning portrait is of second-hand Loughborough bookshop owner John Gallon who will now have his likeness exhibited around the country.

Mr Cohen, who attended Hayes Secondary School, said: "I wasn't expecting much but when I opened their email at 12am I jumped up and woke up my mum. We had to drink a lot of wine to calm down. It was such a rush. I have only been painting portraits for a year and in oils for two years.

"This is one of the most prestigious awards in the world so for someone aged 21 to do it is really mind blowing."

John is a two by one-and-a-half metre portrait that took Mr Cohen two months to paint.

The student added: "When I met John in the bookshop there was a real honesty to him, I felt very comfortable with him.

"I choose figurative painting for personal reasons - there are conflicts in my family life and as an artist it seems the best way to address them."

The annual competition awards a first prize of £25,000 and gives artists the opportunity for their work to be hung in the National Portrait Gallery from June 14. More than 1,700 works were submitted anonymously by artists across the world this year, including veteran artists aged over 40, who were excluded until last year.

The works were narrowed down to just 55, which will also be exhibited in Wolverhampton and Aberdeen, before returning to London in January.

Mr Cohen hopes to continue his academic career by taking a Masters in a top London college upon completing his degree, and is already painting commissioned works for thousands of pounds. He said: "I have been brought up with not much money, so it's absolutely overwhelming. I am just trying to keep my feet on the ground and develop my work more."

The student, who lists some of his major influences as Caravaggio and Lucian Freud, took an interest in graffiti work when he was younger.

His father Shalom, a classical guitar teacher, said: "I'm over the moon, but I'm not that surprised. He works like mad. He told me he likes working in the studio when it's empty so he can get more work done."

The BP Portrait Award 2008 winners will be exhibited in the National Portrait Gallery from June 14 to

September 14.

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