Goldsmiths student Noah Rush impressed the judges of Portrait Artist of the Year and made it to the semi-finals, but he is determined to elevate his art further. Amelia Neath hears about his experience on the show and what the future holds for him as an artist.
When you are the youngest in a painting competition, let alone on a national televised show with celebrity sitters, it is daunting. But this was something Noah Rush did not want to dwell on too much during his time on Portrait Artist of the Year. “I wanted to be seen on the show as just ‘good at painting’, not ‘good at painting for my age’,” says Noah.
Portrait Artist of the Year is a series aired on Sky Arts that has been running since 2013. Celebrity guests sit for their portrait for four hours, for a round of nine artists each episode, who are judged by experts from the art world.
Last year, while filming for the ninth season of Portrait Artist of the Year, Noah, who is from Charlton in Greenwich, was 19 years old and in his first year of a Fine Art degree at Goldsmiths. While young artists, often still studying for their A-levels or at university, are common on the show, the producers were keen to make it known Noah had only been painting seriously for a couple of years.
“My dad went to art school and my Grandad was a painter,” says Noah. “I was always drawing and encouraged to make art when I was younger, but I didn’t start painting properly until lockdown in 2020. I just started painting every day in my parents’ conservatory.”
Sitting in a small studio cubicle, home to two other student artists alongside him, Noah’s art hangs high up on the wall and canvases and boards displaying more artworks are stacked together. His student studio sits at the very top of the Goldsmiths art building, giving a panoramic view of East London’s landscape.
Noah spoke of his time on the show in a laid-back manner; not regarding himself as having achieved way more than other painters his age, but as an artist who still has a lot more to learn. As the Overground trains snake in and out of New Cross Gate, he talks through the surrealism of being on the show, yet looking back, thinking his portraits were not “particularly good.”
“My work has changed so much,” he says. “It’s weird because now they’re on telly, out in the world, and that’s how people will see my art.”
Despite his self-criticism, Noah won his round against eight other artists with his portrait of the comedian Alex Brooker. He had a gut feeling that his name would be called out, but that it still “came as a shock.”
“Just before they called out my name to say I was going through to the final, I had it in my head that it was going to be me, it was really strange. I didn’t even like my painting the best, I just thought, I know this is going to be me, and then they called me out. It could have been a fluke,” he laughed. “Maybe the others thought that as well.”
He went on to paint singer Rebecca Ferguson in the semi-final. He described her as having a proper presence in her chair; “she was very much involved in the act of sitting rather than being passive.”
His journey on Portrait Artist of the Year ended there, but he is grateful for the experience. “It was very stressful, but it was a really good experience, and I am really glad I did it. I never expected to win…I just wanted to get my work out there for a bit of recognition.”
After the competition, he experienced portrait burnout and stayed away from them for a while, focusing more on landscapes. He put this down to portraiture becoming mechanical to him. “As soon as I got that phone call to say I was on the show, I just practiced painting for a minimum of 8 hours a day. Art should be a bit more emotional than that; it is a weird thing even judging art in a competition.”
He admits that painting portraits is difficult, but also satisfying. “When you’ve been trying for weeks and weeks to paint someone and then finally you get that little flicker of recognition and then suddenly it’s that person.”
When asked if he will appear on the show again, he said he will only apply if he feels he can show how his art has changed and how he could approach portraiture differently.
While his age and his few years’ experience in painting was a topic of conversation on the show, Noah is comfortable in knowing that his style is ever-changing as he gains more experience. He continues to finish his degree over the next few years and hopes to have a career as a professional painter.
Season 9 of Portrait Artist of the Year can be found on Sky TV Catch Up.
Noah Rush can be found on Instagram @noahrushart.