WHAT IT FEELS LIKE TO

The Herald Magazine - - CONTENTS - J I MMY MAC K E L L A R , A R T I S T A N D T H E B I G PA I N T I N G C H A L L E N G E C O N T E S TA N T For more see jim­my­mackel­lar.com and tenartists.co.uk

ISTILL can’t be­lieve the whirl­wind of events which fol­lowed a sug­ges­tion, from the award-win­ning artist Rose­mary Beaton, that I should en­ter a TV re­al­ity com­pe­ti­tion. But I did just that: and so be­gan the big­gest adventure of my life.

The BBC de­scribed the show thus: “Pre­sented by Mariella Frostrup and the Rev­erend Richard Coles, BBC One chal­lenges ten creative artists to pick up their paint­brushes for an in­ten­sive six-week, artis­tic boot­camp, in a bid to be crowned the over­all cham­pion.

“In­spir­ing men­tors will guide ten con­tenders through dif­fer­ent paint­ing chal­lenges, from por­trai­ture to land­scape to still-life and move­ment, at lo­ca­tions in­clud­ing the Na­tional Por­trait Gallery and Whip­snade Zoo.”

Now, if that didn’t frighten the liv­ing day­lights out of me, what would? Ev­ery Sun­day they flew me to BBC head­quar­ters in Lon­don, to be filmed on set from 7am till 9pm from Mon­day to Wed­nes­day. Paint­ing was de­layed daily, how­ever, dur­ing te­dious re­hearsals, obey­ing Armystyle com­mands like, “Walk in cor­rect or­der, stand here, don’t go there, wait here, go out, come back in again, don’t talk. Do NOT post on so­cial me­dia or dis­cuss your par­tic­i­pa­tion in the pro­gramme with any­one be­fore, dur­ing or af­ter the film­ing. You will have to wear the same outer gar­ments for the whole episode (three days in a row to al­low for con­ti­nu­ity). No watches, hats or sun­glasses, mo­bile phones, cam­eras, mu­si­cal de­vice, head­phones etc are al­lowed on set.”

You’ll be glad to know that I did tell my fam­ily and that my pa­tient wife got me three sets of suit­able clothes – cleaned weekly. I avoided all those who wore the same gear three days in a row!

Cu­ri­ous friends would ask why I was off to Lon­don for three or four days each week. “Art com­pe­ti­tion, don’t ask.” But of course they all did.

Paint­ing it­self al­ways came af­ter all the in­ter­minable de­lays so the rather tired and unin­spired artists would march in the cor­rect or­der to our ap­pointed easels to paint.

Ev­ery 10 min­utes or so a cam­era and in­ter­viewer would ap­pear in front of me, ask­ing ques­tions, block­ing our view of the cho­sen pose – for ex­am­ple of sit­ter Floella Ben­jamin dur­ing por­trai­ture, and she rarely sat still for long. Mov­ing tar­gets and in­op­por­tune in­ter­rup­tions be­came the norm.

There were 60 BBC per­son­nel buzzing about the set, di­rect­ing, film­ing, lis­ten­ing to us all day via our lapel mi­cro­phones, but de­spite all that I did man­age to have the time of my life – high on adrenalin – and I pro­duced one or two good works.

Each week some­one was elim­i­nated by one of three es­teemed judges, Daphne Todd, David Di­bosa and our charm­ing Scot­tish artist Lach­lan Goudie. It was a bit like a pub­lic hang­ing: a judge was ap­pointed to re­veal the poor vic­tim, but only af­ter a 15-sec­ond de­lay, all filmed, tears and all, in­clud­ing the dreaded walk of shame down the street, and even this was re­peated sev­eral times, rub­bing salt into the wound. They filmed us

for a to­tal of 1,200 hours, edited down to six one-hour pro­grammes on BBC One, at­tract­ing 6 mil­lion view­ers each week. Strangers spoke to me in the street.

Now the ten artists are great pals, even cel­e­brat­ing our first re­union re­cently in Glas­gow. Coin­ci­den­tally, the 2018 se­ries was be­ing filmed in Glas­gow last month, and I popped in to say hello.

Richard Coles greeted me like a long lost friend. I com­mis­er­ated about his de­par­ture from Strictly Come Danc­ing.

He kindly said: “Out of 6,000 ap­pli­cants you reached the semi-fi­nals, Jimmy!” How nice was that?

Artist Jimmy Mackel­lar likened elim­i­na­tions from the show to pub­lic hang­ings Pic­ture: Mark Gib­son

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