Whether it be God, Liz Taylor, or Henry V, we have always been fascinated by physical appearance -- is a person short or tall, blue-eyed, gorgeous, with red hair or bad teeth? And we continue to look. Portraits have a language... [more]
Whether it be God, Liz Taylor, or Henry V, we have always been fascinated by physical appearance -- is a person short or tall, blue-eyed, gorgeous, with red hair or bad teeth? And we continue to look. Portraits have a language all their own; the viewer reads the gestures, posture, clothing, demeanor, physicality, and expression of the subject in order to arrive at a persona. Particularly intriguing is the self-portrait -- the artist is more or less revealed in various ways depending on the chosen method of representation.
From Rembrandt to Warhol, the most profound Portraitists use all of their human responses and technical resources -- design, color, tone, texture, line -- to reveal the complexity of the subject. Artist Graham Sutherland, conscious that "layer upon layer of wrappings cover personality," wrote that he had to be "as absorbent as blotting paper and as patient and watchful as a cat. . . letting the subject gradually reveal himself unconsciously so that by his voice and gaze as well as by his solid flesh your memory and emotions are stirred and assaulted."
Contemporary Portraiture expands the notion of the portrait beyond the physical and the pictorial, offering representations of personality through materials as diverse as sound, blood, text, or DNA. Master Portraitist Chuck Close began with traditional painting methods, but recently created a self-portrait with holograms; British artist Marc Quinn molded a copy of his head in his own frozen blood. Whatever the medium, throughout history portrait artists tackle the same challenge: negotiating a fine balance between the subject's self-image (can we ever see ourselves as others see us?) and the artist's own perception.