A Gallery Attendant at a Scottish Museum Has Long Made Art on the Side. Now He Just Won One of His Country’s Biggest Art Prizes

Michael Youds, a gallery attendant at the Scottish National Galleries, won the Scottish Portrait Award, one of Scotland’s biggest art prizes.

Michael Youds, I Was Blue, He Was Red (2019). Courtesy of the Scottish Portrait Award in Fine Art.

Most of the time, gallery attendants watch over artwork, ask visitors not to stand too close, and answer general questions (usually about where the bathroom is). Like many of these uncelebrated museum heroes, Michael Youds, an attendant at the Scottish National Galleries in Edinburgh, also paints in his spare time. For the past few years, he’s entered one of Scotland’s biggest art prize contests, the Scottish Portrait Award in Fine Art. And this year, the 37-year-old won.

“I have entered the Scottish Portrait Awards every year since it began but this is the first time I was selected for the exhibition. To win is amazing,” Youds told the UK site inews.

The Scottish Portrait Award started in 2014 and is open to anyone over the age of 16 living or working in Scotland. “The Scottish Portrait Award for Fine Art is for portraits in any 2D or 3D medium—all painting formats, all sculpture formats, collage, printmaking, weaving, photography, digital art, or anything else—we are seeking diversity as well as powerful art,” the awards’ website states. The awards are juried by a panel of five judges, including two prominent Scottish portraitists, Gordon Mitchell and John Byrne.

Youds’s photorealistic portrait, I Was Blue, He Was Red (2019), is a depiction of him and his twin brother, David, sitting next to one another on a comfortable-looking couch. Youds holds a photograph of the brothers in his hands, the twins facing each other wearing blue and red onesies. In the present, they wear t-shirts in the same colors.

Youds said he set the portrait at his brother’s house because his couch was nearly identical to the one in the baby picture, but that the coordination of their t-shirts was entirely by chance—”a strange coincidence,” he says. 

Youds will take home a £5,000 ($6,540) prize, and his winning portrait will be on view at the Scottish Arts Club in Edinburgh until November 30th. Before long, maybe he will be guiding visitors past his own work at the Scottish National Galleries.

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