Saturday, March 18, 2006

Two exhibitions at the National Portrait Gallery

I met up with an old friend yesterday and, since we had arranged to lunch in the Portrait Restaurant at the top of the National Portrait Gallery, we saw a couple of the current exhibitions. More details from the NPG website are available on the links below. Links are also made to "The Guardian" crits and images of the Stuart Pearson Wright portraits mentioned and to the latter's website - which has been added to the artist website section in the right hand column.

  1. Icons and Idols: Commissioning Contemporary Portraits (2 March - 18 June 2006) Most of the works in this exhibition are ones which people visiting the NPG will have seen before. However this time - and what makes the exhibition interesting - they are accompanied by a narrative describing the process of commissioning and executing the commission. The exhibition also includes references to people who never had their portraits executed despite requests from the Gallery - such as Ted Heath - who is the only Prime Minister in the last 200 years not to have his portrait in the NPG despite three separate attempts. What struck me as I went round the exhibition was (a) how critical the matching of artist and sitter is to the success of a commissioned portrait and (b) the variety of approaches artist use when undertaking a commission. I'd find it helpful to see such narratives more routinely displayed around the gallery in relation to the NPG commissions generally.
  2. 'Most people are other people': Portraits of Actors by Stuart Pearson Wright (Until 11 June 2006, Room 37a). This exhibition celebrates actors from featuring actors from film, theatre and television. The artist aims to provide an insight into the lives of actors in their private moments, playing themselves and to query the concept of 'self'. I really, really like these drawings which are essentially monochromatic. Mostly because I aspire to being able to draw people like this one day. The artist has a meticulous figurative style (which is not photo realistic) and has excuted most of the drawings in graphite. A number also include charcoal, some limited use of coloured pencils and pen and ink. They remind me very much of a self-portrait drawing by Stanley Spencer executed in silverpoint which I guess is in the NPG store at the moment as I haven't seen it for some years. You can see these drawings and others plus paintings at the website of the artist, Stuart Pearson Wright . An awful lot has been written about this artist. The RSA commissioned him to do a portrait of Prince Phillip - which will probably go down in the annals as a classic example of mismatch between artist and sitter. The original painting is Figure 44 in the paintings section of his website and the revised version is Figure 37. By way of contrast, the NPG commissioned him to do a portrait of J K Rowling and he produced an innovative portrait much praised by the sitter as showing more of her than any photo has ever shown. Initial sketches for the painting are Figures 98 and 99 in the drawings section of his website. A larger and better lit image can be seen at Figure 61 in the paintings section of his website. This provides a link to an interesting account by the artist of the process adopted for this particular commission.

Finally, for anybody visiting London, I can highly recommend the Portrait Restaurant for lunch - it has fantastic views and is very light even on a dull day.

Here is a stitched scan of two double page spreads of a couple of sketches I made of the view on a visit last October, while "the other half" sipped two cups of tea and read his "The Economist"! These were the result of some fast sketching of an awful lot of rather challenging architecture for maybe 20 minutes. I have every intention of going back on my own and drinking an awful lot of tea while I try to draw this again properly on one sheet of paper. My aim is to do a monochromatic and a colour version as part of a series I'm developing on London views.

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  1. just a quick hello..
    thanks for the great links in this post.. I will have a closer look
    during next week.
    Your head drawings are favorite isthis one so far.

  2. Thanks Martin - more links in the next post as well.


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