Reflect on Portraiture: ‘What is portraiture today?’, but what has it been?

This is the first of a series of blogs exploring the history of portraiture in the run up to the opening of Reflection, our portraiture open show. A total history of portraiture would be a pretty gargantuan task for one lowly History of Art undergrad, instead this an exploration into some key themes and ideas related to portraiture.

  Titian,  Portrait of Isabella d’Este , c.1534-1536, oil on canvas, 102 x 64 cm, Kunsthistorisches Museum.

Titian, Portrait of Isabella d’Este, c.1534-1536, oil on canvas, 102 x 64 cm, Kunsthistorisches Museum.

In the call for submissions we have asked artists to explore ‘What is portraiture today?’; as a historically minded individual, I am asking (and, hopefully partially answering) ‘What has portraiture been? and why?’. I hope these blogs will pique your interest, and if you’re an artist, give you some inspiration for your submissions to Reflection.

  Artemisia Gentileschi,  Self- Portrait as the Allegory of Painting , 1638-1639, oil on canvas, 98.6 x 75.2, Royal Collection (Currently on show at the Royal Academy in the Charles I: King and Collector exhibition).

Artemisia Gentileschi, Self- Portrait as the Allegory of Painting, 1638-1639, oil on canvas, 98.6 x 75.2, Royal Collection (Currently on show at the Royal Academy in the Charles I: King and Collector exhibition).

Let me introduce you to the themes I’ll be exploring in the weeks to come. Next week we’ll be going back to what most people think of when they think portrait: good old oil on canvas paintings. I’ll be looking at portraits of Isabella d’Este and using them to introduce some key ideas about portraiture which are still being explored by artists today. From here we’ll jump into the 21st century and consider how selfies are a natural evolution in the history of portraiture. Then we’ll go back to the Renaissance, hop around a few centuries, looking at artists self-portraits and the difficulties of self-representation. From there, there’s a bit of a thematic change, looking at idealisation in portraiture and ideas about internal virtue and external beauty. From idealisation we move to brutal realism, considering the changing relationship between artist and sitter. Then, we lose faces and figuration altogether and go to the weird and wonderful world of conceptual portraiture. Finally, in the week before Reflection opens, I’ll be looking at how some of the ideas discussed are represented in the artworks from the exhibition.

  Cindy Sherman Instagram, 2017, “Cindy Sherman Takes Selfies (as Only She Could) on Instagram).”  The New York Times  (August 6, 2017).  https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/06/arts/design/cindy-sherman-instagram.html

Cindy Sherman Instagram, 2017, “Cindy Sherman Takes Selfies (as Only She Could) on Instagram).” The New York Times (August 6, 2017). https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/06/arts/design/cindy-sherman-instagram.html

There’ll be themes that keep popping up: likeness (or lack of), personality, characterisation, beauty, status, self-fashioning, narcissism, identity, subject and artist. There are questions I’ll keep asking: What is the aim of a portrait? Is a portrait just capturing someone’s likeness or does it go a little deeper? Why do we still make portraits? Does external appearance have anything to do with who we are? And many, many more.

I hope you’ll enjoy this blog series and it’ll move you to reflect on portraiture.

  Robert Rauschenberg,  This Is a Portrait of Iris Clert If I Say So , 1961, Telegram with envelope, 44.5 x 34.6, Collection Ahrenberg, Vevey, Switzerland. Photo: Courtesy Robert Rauschenberg Foundation.  https://www.rauschenbergfoundation.org/art/artwork/portrait-iris-clert-if-i-say-so

Robert Rauschenberg, This Is a Portrait of Iris Clert If I Say So, 1961, Telegram with envelope, 44.5 x 34.6, Collection Ahrenberg, Vevey, Switzerland. Photo: Courtesy Robert Rauschenberg Foundation. https://www.rauschenbergfoundation.org/art/artwork/portrait-iris-clert-if-i-say-so

 

Bibliography

Woodall, Joanna. Portraiture: Facing the subject. Manchester and New York: Manchester University Press, 1997.

Campbell, Lorne. “Portraiture.” Grove Art Online. Last updated May 26, 2010.

Re:Surface: Interview with the Artist

 

Artist: Emily Geyerhosz

 

What inspires you to create and does your work reflect this?

With writing, I get inspired a lot by music, film, TV and books. I can be inspired by certain characters and certain exchanges between them and I can get inspired by sights or settings I may come across, which is what my piece is about. I was in awe of the weather one day on an annual family trip to the coast. The town, Whitby, is a place I’ve always come back to, since I was a child. The sea, the abbey, the pier, the cobbled streets have always been one of the settings I’ve been interested in. I’ve always been keen to take photos too, and this one day I took one that stood out from the rest and just became a representation of the beautiful day I’d had. I seem to rotate to these descriptions of coastal towns, and old towns with narrow cobbled streets. I really like to describe these settings as vividly as I can.

How do you work/create?

I mostly end up writing when I’m not supposed to, like when I need to be studying. I come up with ideas usually when I’m travelling or walking whilst listening to music and I then try to write about certain images or extracts of a scene I’ve thought up and form backgrounds or plots later on. But, generally, I generally don’t really have a plan with how I write, though it can depend on what I’m writing. I like to sit down with a notepad and pen or my laptop and write for a while and then read back over it.

What do you like about your work?

I like that it is a physical copy of what I’ve been thinking about and I like translating thoughts into words. It can be difficult to not attack your work because of your inner critic, and it can also be hard to keep on rewording, cutting and changing and sometimes scrapping your ideas, but getting through that is very rewarding. Writing is a really good creative outlet, which is probably why I do end up writing when I’m supposed to be studying because it’s hard to absorb facts or information all the time as a creative person.

With the photography side of it, I have always liked the idea of being able to take a physical copy of something ephemeral- that cliche idea of capturing something forever is quite inspiring. There isn’t any skill behind the photos that I take at all, I just like the idea of photo albums and flicking through memories some of which encourage me to write.

What do you see for you in the future?

I’d love just to be able to write more in the future, either towards a big project like a novel or even smaller things like a creative journal or something that I would write everyday. Finding time to read and write for entertainment is hard now as a student as you always think you need to be getting on with uni work when you’re engaging your brain creatively instead of passively watching TV as a form of taking a break from studying. I’ve also always wanted to write and publish a book and keep up with a blog, and hopefully I will when things settle down.

A few words about your piece at Re:Surface.

I wanted to recreate the image of the Whitby Bay pier in words as it was a remarkable sight and a piece of photography I’m proud of. The photograph was taken around two years ago. I wanted to mash together my love of writing and my hobby of photography. What I hoped people would take from the piece was the idea of how writers can paint a picture, to rather capture a picture using words, which is something I find really intriguing with writing creatively. The aim was that people would read the description and then see if the photography matched up to the image painted in their head. I used pages of a book to cover to the box I’d placed the photography in to go with the idea of words mixing up with images and the conflict I can experience in my head with lots of different words and descriptions colliding together to try and describe something.

 

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EM:16 Dave Dent

Dave Dent is not where art meets science because he doesn't seem them as opposing forces to be joined, he sees them as seperate paths to the same destination. We discuss his intentions with art to reconcile faith and science, the differences in metals and ancient Egyptians. It was great.

Have you felt much of a difference creating for a ‘graduate show’ as opposed to creating as a student?

It is nice in some ways to be doing a project that isn’t assessed but I am actually doing an MA. This is part of the practical work for my MA so it is actually being assessed! I’m in a very odd position.

That is quite an odd one, one of the things most people have said so far, is they feel quite free being away from the assessment side of things. Do you think you’re missing that?

I’m trying as hard as possible to think of it as not being assessed. The fact it’s an MA I do have a lot more freedom and you build up a freedom through your degree so it’s an extension of that... But I can’t completely divorce myself from the fact [it is assessed].

 Yes, I was naughty and asked if  I could touch them all

Yes, I was naughty and asked if  I could touch them all

What made you want to do an MA?

It took me a long time to start doing my art degree. Before I started my degree, my last formal art lesson was in 1973; I didn’t do, what was in those days, O-levels Art. I went into sciences and didn’t do any formal art from 13. I trained as a microbiologist. There’s an Einstein quote that says all religions, arts and sciences are branches of the same tree and I’ve always viewed that [they’re] an exploration of the same thing. It’s a way of trying to interpret and understand reality, or at least that’s how I see it. I suppose through art I am trying to reconcile my spiritual and scientific understanding into a coherent… (laughs) It’s not coherent by any means because it’s too complicated but I’m working on it. It’s a work in progress. But, going back to the original question of why I’m doing an MA, I have just loved the process. It’s been something that’s been with me for many years but having started formal training in it and education, I don’t want to stop.

That learning style must be quite different to a Science degree?

Yes, it is, but my approach to art is very systematic, very methodical in lots of ways. My degree piece, I actually planned, I mean, it was in May but I’d planned it from April the year before. I had the idea while I was putting up my end of second year piece and basically worked towards it. I mean with this, I decided pretty much before the residency what the outcome was going to be, it has changed a bit because it’s not on the wall anymore, but I have to order the glass so I have to decide how much glass, how many.

With the group name Pulse, do you relate it to your work at all?

I’m not sure it does but it also doesn’t jar with the work. To try and come up with a title for such a diverse range of work... Trying to come up with a title for our degree show, it didn’t quite break out into warfare (laughs) but we had a vote and in the end it was ‘Derby University 2016 Fine Art Show’. [Pulse is] a good title; it’s succinct. There’s suggestions of being contemporary and on the pulse so it works well on the title.

Tell us about how you got into this form of glass painting, with layering metals? It’s not necessarily what you expect if you hear glass painting

It started in my second year, we had to do a response to something in Derby Museum and Art Gallery and I picked Joseph Wright’s ‘The Alchemist Discovering Phosphorus’. I did a piece based on alchemy, I basically produced three panels, the first panel represented lead, the third gold and then in the middle I did a philosophers stone which was actually a bronze panel. A scientist called Glenn Seaborg, used a particle accelerator to actually turn lead into gold. Only a few atoms but still, you could do it! Basically by firing protons into a nucleus and making it bigger. All three panels were square, and I coated bronze onto [the philosopher’s stone]. Then, there’s a thing called the feynman diagrams which represent the interaction between the particles for the reaction; I carved them into the surface of this bronze panel, of the transition from lead to gold, so that was my philosopher's stone. So that’s really what got me into coating metals onto glass and then I thought, there’s quite a long way I can go with this. I started playing with various other metals and materials; I got very interested in the concept of art as alchemy. Artists take basic materials and hopefully transform them into something that is valuable, something beautiful… Well I mean, beauty is an odd concept but, we take base things and transform them. Artists are alchemists.

So it flows back to what you said, art, science, spirituality, being from the same tree,

The earliest alchemy came from priests in ancient Egypt and the mummification of bodies; alchemy grew out of that, through the Middle Ages and again a close relationship between alchemy and priests. Then a lot of the experiments that alchemists did in the search for gold produced the particles that artists use. Eventually alchemy grew into modern day chemistry. I think because knowledge is so vast these days we have to break it down into understandable chunks but by doing that I think we lose the connection quite often. I think artists make connections and it’s about inviting viewers to make connections.

Tell us a little about your project, what we’re going to see on Opening Night?

There has to be something about the work, and I hope there is, that invites them to engage with it because if they don’t engage with it, on an aesthetic or a tactile level, they’re not going to think anymore about it. It’s got to be engaging in some way to invite the viewer to wonder, is it about something? If it is, what is it about? To engage with it as much or as little as they want to but there’s got to be something there, an access point of some form.

What do you want to get out of the residency?

Tthe experience, working with a different bunch of artists, exposing my work to a different audience and just sort of an opportunity to do some more exploration, mostly outside of university. (laughs) It’s a different challenge, a different way of working and I guess if I have future residencies I’ll be a bit more reckless and not plan so much before I go in, try and sort of break away from being too controlled.

How are you finding sharing a space with everyone?

It’s just great coming in and  you chat sometimes, you get on with your work and there’s been no sort of, artistic differences. It’s a big enough space, it’s a great studio space,

davedentartist.com

Written by Lucinda Martin for Surface Gallery

Images by Gavin 'Urban Shutterbug' Conwill

EM16: Pulse 4

The project space has begun to empty as our resident artists move their work downstairs and take over the main gallery space. There’s a monster in the middle of the room, black drapes dancing from the rigging and a lace table, that isn’t quite a table, by the stairs… It’s hard to believe that all this has been created in only four weeks. It's harder to believe we're almost at the end of those four weeks! Our artists have shown nothing but dedication and love for their work but it’s not just their exhibited work; they’ve done their own press release, designed their own catalogue and really taken every opportunity to make this their show. At Surface, it’s been a pleasure to watch their work grow and to help in whatever ways we could. I think they can also feel very safe in the knowledge they have some huge fans in all of us (especially me, I can never stop gushing after each interview how excited I am for opening night).  It comes back to what Jane and I talked about, Surface very quickly becomes your home and I think we quickly take in our artists are part of our Surface family.

So what’s next? Well, opening night is the 4th November 6-9pm and we would absolutely love to see everyone there. It’s a celebration of learning, a celebration of growth and just looking at some interesting art. Plus, we have some cracking local beers and I don’t think there’s a much more satisfying Friday night than wandering around Surface with a Roaring Meg. 

After that we have an artist talk and tour on the 12th November at 2pm where you can follow after the artists and ask everything you didn’t get to read in our interviews. You can engage with their work and question their motivations or you can find out their favourite flavour of crisps.

There’s a whole two weeks to explore and enjoy their art and then you can always keep up with them online

Tracey King - traceyking.com / Uta Feinstein uta-feinstein.com /

  Jane Smith janerosesmith.wordpress.com / Tayler Fisher taylerfisher.com

Connie Liebschner  connieliebschner.com / Dave Dent davedentartist.com

Miriam Bean miriambean.comEllysia Bugler ellysiabugler.com

Written by Lucinda Martin for Surface Gallery

Images by Gavin 'Urban Shutterbug' Conwill

EM:16 Pulse 3

It’s hard to believe we’re already three weeks in! It doesn’t seem like long ago we were taking down the last exhibition and prepping the project space for our EM16 residents to arrive. Already the depth of work is fantastic and there’s still two weeks to go until opening night on November 4th. As Connie said in our interview, the project space is an inspiring one. Every time I pop into the project space, I see the work grow, new additions being added and refined and I’m more excited for it to be shared with everyone on opening night.

This week finishes up our series of critiques sessions, the group crit being led by Diana Ali and individual sessions led by Sumiko Eadon, Shelley MacDonald, Christine Stevens and Bruce Asbestos. All the artists seem to have really responded to the chance to get feedback from established artists who have experience in a gallery setting. Everyone seems to have used it to develop their work, as can be seen in my interview with Connie (here) and as I discussed a bit in my interview with Dave Dent (which you’ll have to wait until next week to read). My main worry about opening night is how we’re actually going to carry everything down, specifically a certain metres high monster.


Our workshops so far have been a great success, the volunteers have even been fully taking advantage to grab a space on one whenever they can. It might even be leading the way for something special from Surface in the future… It’s given our artists a chance to try something new in the creative field; that’s the beauty of the residency, and Surface in general for our volunteers, it’s about trying something new and finding what works for the individual.

While I mainly poke around everyone’s work, and I’m only a bit ashamed to admit, ask if I can touch it, our artists have been doing the real heavy work: designing posters, writing press releases and deciding what to do with that lovely big window of ours. Miriam has put countless hours into the poster design and Dave Dent worked on our press release; it’s nice to be able to get involved in every aspect of their graduate show to really have the control over how they present themselves. When they discussed design ideas, the concept that was constantly returned to was shedding the student skin and becoming artists in their own rights. The designs definitely do this - they’re bloody lovely, you can even read the press release and get a sample of the flyer here.

One of the things I’ve especially loved during my interviews is finding out why the name Pulse resonates with each artist and why they came to Surface because despite their work being so diverse, there is a theme that pulls them together. Life, movement, transition, change, and whether it’s come at from a confrontational or reflective place, it has all been about growth. That and me following them around with coffee asking for quotes.

Written by Lucinda Martin for Surface Gallery

Images 1 and 3 by Gavin 'Urban Shutterbug' Conwill

Image 2 by Surface Gallery

EM:16 Pulse 2

The planning and progress meetings are a great to keep up with what’s happening but they’re also just a great excuse for me to go have a nosy at how much the Project Space has already transformed. As Dave Dent reminds me, four weeks isn’t actually that long and we’re already a week in. On the way up the stairs, the formings of, what I assume is, the head of Tayler Fisher’s creature is the first thing to greet me. It’s quite charming in all its monstrous glory and I’m excited to see the thing grow.   

 Connie Liebschner's work progress

Connie Liebschner's work progress

Black fabric flows from the skylight and reminds me of the blue sea of fabric that had swam down only a few weeks ago as part of Celine Siani Djiakoua's 'Deep Sea', especially with her medusa like wall painting still large on the wall. It makes you realise that as quickly as the gallery can move between exhibitions, they all leave their lasting impression on us.

When we do start the meeting, conversation is rapid and trying to cover everything as quickly as possible. We discuss opening night, whether or not we need music, especially alongside Miriam Bean’s creative soundscapes. The most important question though, do we need to offer food? And if so, what? (My sore throat meant I didn't have enough voice to offer up the obvious option, themed cookies)

 Diana Ali offering the group critique

Diana Ali offering the group critique

This week was the group critique session with Diana Ali and it seems to be something everyone looked forwards to. Uta Feinstein says how positive it will be to have a fresh pair of eyes looking at her work. It bridges the gap between independent work and the kind of creative feedback anyone who has done a creative course is used to. It also gives our resident artists a chance to meet many local talented artists and draw on their expertise.

On our side, as we look back through previous graduate programme catalogues it shows us how far we’ve come; while each year has been brilliant, every year we’ve been more prepared and able to add to the previous year. I’m so looking forwards to sharing it with you on opening night.

 Turning it up to 11

Turning it up to 11

Keep an eye on the blog Sunday when we will have another interview with some of our resident artists.

Written by Lucinda Martin for Surface Gallery

Images 1 and 3 by Gavin ‘Urban Shutterbug’ Conwill

Image 2 by Jez Kirby

 

EM:16 Pulse

It’s one of the most exciting times of year at the gallery, not only is Halloween just around the corner but the East Midlands Graduate Programme is finally beginning its residency. Our eight resident artists have been chosen for offering a style and project our committee was genuinely excited to showcase; and this year our artists cover a wide variety of mediums and influences so it promises to be a varied and exciting show. There’s something incredibly special about the first project created after graduation when you are beginning to label yourself as an artist without the adage of ‘student’. We’re excited to be part of this transition and hope you are as well.

     Connie Liebschner, Uta Feinstein, Jane Smith, Dave Dent, Tracey King, Ellysia Bugler, Tayler Fisher, Miriam Bean

   Connie Liebschner, Uta Feinstein, Jane Smith, Dave Dent, Tracey King, Ellysia Bugler, Tayler Fisher, Miriam Bean

Our first planning meeting, this Monday, was the first time we’ve all met in one big group; this could be an incredibly awkward experience with lots of drawn out introductions and ‘ummm’s but everyone’s instantly bonded. We’re all there for the same reason, to create something great. and besides, we don’t have time for nerves, there’s too much to do.

                       The Group Discussing Ideas

                      The Group Discussing Ideas

Our main aim this week is to discuss flyers and names - how the group want to brand themselves and present their debut. The recurring idea is that the design, and name, needs to say ‘Artist’ not Art Student’. The name settled on is Pulse, and the flyer, well, you’ll have to keep an eye out for that.

This week, the group was happy to meet with John Mitchell, of WiT Partnerships, who is conducting an independent evaluation for Surface to follow the residency; it plans to see what the artists hope to gain from the residency, what their plans are and then will reflect back on this once the exhibition has actually begun. John describes it as “more about learning than evaluation,” and it promises to teach us at Surface as much as it does the artists.

Next week, the artists will be having their critique sessions, which was mentioned in our October newsletter. Local artists will be meeting with the graduates, based on their experiences for individual critique sessions, as well as a group critique. Look forwards to reading more about this next Wednesday, when we look back on what’s happening and how the group are feeling for their sessions.

                                                        The Artists known as Pulse            

                                                       The Artists known as Pulse            

This Saturday kicks off our first EM16 workshops, the ‘Noisemaker Workshop’ led by Miriam Bean and ‘Engaging the Senses’ with Ellysia Bugler. I’ll also be publishing some interviews with them on Sunday so make sure to check back and find out how it went!

Written by Lucinda Martin for Surface Gallery

Images by Gavin ‘Urban Shutterbug’ Conwill