Reflect on Portraiture: Beyond Likeness - 20th Century Experiments in Portraiture

I had a real struggle naming this week’s blog. I had planned to call it “Conceptual Portraiture” but then I realised not all the artworks I wanted to talk about are necessarily Conceptual. Still, there is something that made me put these artworks together, even if I struggle to articulate it. The link is obvious really; I’m saying they’re portraits but, like, where are the people? The portraits I’ve looked at in the rest of the blog series have all been images of people. But do portraits have to be representational likenesses of a person? Are there other ways to represent a person? These are some of the questions raised and explored in the works of Eleanor Antin, Robert Rauschenberg and Arman.

Traditionally, the face and body have been central to portraiture, we’ve seen and discussed this again, and again, and again. But why? For centuries it was believed that your outer appearance reflected your inner self. An ugly exterior reflected an evil interior. This idea is everywhere in fairy tales (think ugly evil witches and beautiful princesses). But we know now that it’s rubbish. Our natural outer appearance is not related to our character, personality, skills and interests, the things that make us who we are (although it can be altered to represent these things, through clothing, make up and body modification). As our way of thinking about ourselves has evolved so has the way we represent ourselves. This is the idea, or concept, that Antin, Rauschenberg and Arman are all thinking about.

Eleanor Antin,  Blood of a Poet Box,  1965-1968, Wood, cardboard, glass slides, blood, brass, paper and ink, 2.8 x 29 x 40.5 cm, Tate.

Eleanor Antin, Blood of a Poet Box, 1965-1968, Wood, cardboard, glass slides, blood, brass, paper and ink, 2.8 x 29 x 40.5 cm, Tate.

Through, Blood of a Poet Box, 1965-1968 Antin explores ideas about biological uniqueness, creative talent and the similarities and differences between people. Antin filled a specimen box with 100 samples of blood from 100 poets she knew. The unique blood samples of each of the poets all appear the same when laid out in Antin’s box, you cannot differentiate one poet from another without reading the labels on the sample. As Jayne Wark remarks, Blood of a Poet Box reveals that “biology is neither identity nor destiny”. Every blood sample is different and yet also, visually, the same. Although blood may be unique, blood alone does not make us who we are.

Robert Rauschenberg,  Self-Portrait (For the New Yorker Profile),  1964, ink and graphite on paper, (30 x 23 cm).

Robert Rauschenberg, Self-Portrait (For the New Yorker Profile), 1964, ink and graphite on paper, (30 x 23 cm).

Robert Rauschenberg also explores the idea of biological uniqueness in his Self-Portrait (For the New Yorker Profile), 1964. Rauschenberg was asked to send a self-portrait to accompany a New Yorker segment on him, instead he sent off his thumbprint. Although the fingerprint is unique to Rauschenberg, we cannot visually recognize it as a representation of him.  

Both Antin and Rauschenberg are exploring the idea of biological uniqueness. What they both demonstrate, is that our identities must be more than biological elements. And if this is true and our biologically unique attributes do not differentiate us from others, then what does make us individuals? And how can this be expressed in a portrait?

Antin explores this in her series, “Portraits of Eight New York Women”, 1970. These portraits are made up of objects and text which Antin presents as representations of women she knew. These pieces are difficult to decode, as we do not personally know the subjects like Antin. Still, there’s no denying that the representation of Yvonne Rainer is completely different from that of Carolee Schneemann, so Antin must’ve been onto something. From these pieces we get a sense of the women’s individual personalities and interests.

Eleanor Antin,  Carolee Schneeman from “Portraits of Eight New York Women” , 1970, Mirror, jar of honey with honeycomb, easel, velvet throw, text panel.

Eleanor Antin, Carolee Schneeman from “Portraits of Eight New York Women”, 1970, Mirror, jar of honey with honeycomb, easel, velvet throw, text panel.

Eleanor Antin,  Yvonne Rainer   from “Portraits of Eight New York Women” , 1970, Exercise bike, basket, flowers, horn, sweatshirt, text panel.

Eleanor Antin, Yvonne Rainer from “Portraits of Eight New York Women”, 1970, Exercise bike, basket, flowers, horn, sweatshirt, text panel.

Arman also tried representing people through objects. His Portrait-robot d’Iris, 1960, is a portrait of the gallery owner Iris Clert, which represents her through her possessions. It’s like looking through someone’s bedroom, decoding who someone is through what they own. If Antin and Rauschenberg revealed that identities were not related to nature, then Arman suggests they have a lot more to do with nurture. Or, in other words, we have the power to build ourselves through possessions. Today, we can even construct our identities online through social media.

Arman,  Portrait-robot d’Iris,  1960, Personal effects of Mrs. Iris Clert in a box, City of Paris Museum of Modern Art.

Arman, Portrait-robot d’Iris, 1960, Personal effects of Mrs. Iris Clert in a box, City of Paris Museum of Modern Art.

Arman was asked to make the portrait of Iris Clert for a group exhibition which also featured Robert Rauschenberg. Rauschenberg actually forgot to make his portrait, so he hastily sent off a telegram saying: “This is a Portrait of Iris Clert if I Say So”. This telegram is a fantastic example of Conceptual Art (and how artists can get away with anything if they’re famous). The telegram makes us consider the authority we give artists. Rauschenberg says the telegram is a portrait of Iris Clert and he’s an artist, so it must be. This reminds me of Titian’s Portrait of Isabella d’Este which looked nothing like her. Titian is an artist, so when he says this is a portrait of Isabella d’Este we believe him, even if he’s painted her 30 years younger than she actually was. I think Rauschenberg is poking fun at this sort of thing and seeing how much he can get away with (quite a lot apparently).

Robert Rauschenberg,  This is a Portrait of Iris Clert if I Say So,  1961, Telegram with envelope, 44.5 x 34.6 cm), Collection Ahrenberg, Vevey, Switzerland.

Robert Rauschenberg, This is a Portrait of Iris Clert if I Say So, 1961, Telegram with envelope, 44.5 x 34.6 cm), Collection Ahrenberg, Vevey, Switzerland.

Rauschenberg’s telegram also reveals a key problem still being explored today: can an object ever truly stand in for a person? Can art materials ever create a satisfying portrait? Is oil on canvas really any closer to a person than a telegram?

Rauschenberg, Antin and Arman explored what portraiture was in the 20th century. But what, I hear you ask, is portraiture today? If you want to find out make sure you visit our exhibition Reflection. To find out more about the artists featured in the exhibition, have a read through Nathan T. Dean's interviews with the artists, so far he's spoken to David Hopkins, Sonja Benskin Mesher, and Milad Karamooz. I'll leave you with one final thought, can an interview be a portrait?

Opening Night 13th April 2018, 6-9pm.

14th April – 28 April 2018


Bowdoin College Museum of Art. “This Is a Portrait If I Say So: Identity in American Art, 1912 to Today.”

Wark, Jayne. “Conceptual Art and Feminism: Martha Rosler, Adrian Piper, Eleanor Antin, and Martha Wilson.” Woman’s Art Journal 22, No. 1 (Spring – Summer 2001): 44-50.

Reflect on Portraiture: Artists creating themselves

A few weeks ago, I made the distinction between selfies and self-portraiture, but I didn’t touch on self-portraiture itself. When I look at a self-portrait the first question that pops into my head is “why did the artist paint themselves?”. Paint is expensive, both then and now, so why do artists choose to paint themselves over more commercially popular subjects. There’s no one answer to this; the function of a self-portrait varies from artist to artist. Artists might make a self-portrait in order to practice, using themselves as models as they are to hand. They might make them as gifts to give to their patrons. There’s many other reasons, aside from the practical why an artist might depict themselves, but I’ll leave that for you to consider.

Self-portraits are an important genre in the study of art history, as they show us how artists chose to present themselves. By looking at self-portraits made during different time periods we can see how the role of an artist changes in different societies. I find looking at the self-portraits of female Renaissance artists particularly interesting, as like Isabella d’Este from a few weeks ago; these women had to find a way to fashion themselves as virtuous women despite doing what was considered a man’s job.

Sofonisba Anguissola , Self Portrait at the Easel Painting a Devotional Panel , 1556, oil on canvas, 66 x 57 cm, Łańcut Castle.

Sofonisba Anguissola, Self Portrait at the Easel Painting a Devotional Panel, 1556, oil on canvas, 66 x 57 cm, Łańcut Castle.

Sofonisba Anguissola toes the line fantastically. Anguissola chose to include a painting of the Virgin Mary and Jesus in her self-portrait, a clear allusion to her piety and also a demonstration of her skill as a painter. She paints herself in action, asserting herself as a serious painter. Anguissola balances out these elements of self-promotion (definitely a masculine quality during the Renaissance) by dressing herself extremely modestly. She wears a black dress with no ornamentation and her hair is simply plaited into a bun. Compare this to the portraits of Isabella d’Este, painted around 20 years earlier, and you can see that Anguissola has presented herself far more modestly (modesty being a valued quality in women during the Renaissance).

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 comparison with Anguissola, Artemisia Gentileschi is more risqué in her self-depiction. I said earlier that Anguissola painted herself in action, but this is really nothing compared to Gentileschi, who paints herself stretching over the canvas with sleeves rolled up and dishevelled hair. Gentileschi’s self-portrait feels candid, like she has been caught mid-painting, while Anguissola’s feels posed and self-aware. Gentileschi titling the painting: Self-Portrait as the Allegory of Painting is a bold statement; Gentileschi is claiming to embody painting. Gentileschi’s clothing is far more ornate than Anguissola’s; perhaps this is a symbol of her success, showing off the wealth she has accumulated through selling paintings.

Artemisia Gentileschi,    Self- Portrait as the Allegory of Painting (La Pittura) , 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 (La Pittura), 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).

What I find fascinating about both images is that Anguissola and Gentileschi both chose to depict themselves as artists. They see their profession as key to their identities, more important than their more culturally accepted roles as wives and mothers. Their paintings are self-mythologising: Anguissola and Gentileschi are building their identities as artists through their self-portraits, even if these identities were not accepted as reality at the time. Would other male peers accept Gentileschi as the embodiment of painting? Perhaps not, but by painting herself as the allegory of painting Gentileschi tells us how she views herself and how she wants to be viewed by others.

So, next time you look at a self-portrait, really consider what the artist is trying to tell you about themselves, what identity they are trying to fashion and what myth they are promoting.


Reflect on Portraiture: Selfies as Art

Yes, you read correctly, this is a blog about selfies. I promise it is worth reading and I will not try and convince you that every selfie is a work of art. Instead, I am suggesting that a work of art could be created in the form of a selfie.

Art or Visual Culture?

To me, selfies fall into the category of visual culture, as opposed to fine art. Visual culture is a term which is difficult to define as it describes so many different things. I would describe visual culture simply as culture which is visible, it is all around us in advertising, films, television, and the media. Or, in other words, it’s cultures method of representing itself through a visual medium. Art is also an example of visual culture, but not every type of visual culture is art. I would say that every selfie is an example of visual culture, but it is the intention of the selfie taker which can elevate it into art.

Petra Collins, from  Selfie  series, c.2013,© 2017 PETRA COLLINS.

Petra Collins, from Selfie series, c.2013,© 2017 PETRA COLLINS.


Selfies have a bad reputation; selfie takers are often labelled as vain, narcissistic individuals, and selfies are considered frivolous. But is this fair? Selfies are all about self-fashioning, or the construction of identity through images, and this is a concept that goes way back. Isabella d’Este from last week was a pro at self-fashioning, and almost every portrait ever painted has some degree of image consciousness related to it. However, these historic portraits are not viewed with the same disdain as contemporary selfies.

I think some of the negative feeling towards selfies stems from a lack of respect for the demographic of selfie takers, mainly teenagers and young people, more often than not girls and women. The rise of the front camera has allowed people who, in art, have historically occupied the passive role of model to reclaim control over their image. Personally, I think this is fantastic, now anyone with a smartphone has the power to construct their own image.

In some ways, an Instagram account could be a very good portrait of a person and not just through selfies. Posts of places, food and other people give an indication of how we want to be perceived. However, as with most portraits, Instagram is idealised; it is a heavily curated representation of reality.

So, traditional oil on canvas portraits and selfies have more in common than you might think. They are both mediums through which a person can fashion their identity and take charge of their image, and they both involve a degree of idealisation.

Petra Collins, from  Selfie  series, c.2013,© 2017 PETRA COLLINS.

Petra Collins, from Selfie series, c.2013,© 2017 PETRA COLLINS.

Representation and Communication

It is easy to see selfies as a natural progression from self-portraiture, but after reading How to Talk about Art History’s blog on self-portraits and selfies I was persuaded that selfies are actually “their own genre and their own medium” with only a few similarities to self-portraiture. One of the characteristics which differentiates selfies from self-portraits, is a selfie’s ability to function as a form of communication as well as representation. Think of Snapchat and Instagram, on these apps we send or upload images of ourselves for our friends to see and comment on. This functionality as a means of communication further convinces me that selfies are a form of visual culture, but can selfies ever be art?

Selfies in/as Art

Selfies can and have been the subject of art, for example Petra Collins uses selfie culture as subject matter in her series Selfie. In her words she is: “examining selfie culture in teenage girlhood and the power for young women to create, curate, and distribute their own imagery.” Selfies can also be taken by artists, Cindy Sherman’s Instagram is a great example. Sherman does not see her selfie taking as artistic practice, saying: “I don’t think it at all competes with my serious work. They’re just fun, like a little distraction”. But I believe that in the hands of the right artist, selfies could be an exciting medium for exploring portraiture.

I see this sort of work as a kind of Contemporary Pop Art. Pop artists took inspiration from popular culture, either in subject matter or materiality, and elevated pop culture to high art status. Selfies are a form of current pop culture; Collins has already started using selfie taking as subject matter, therefore it makes sense that the medium of selfie taking could also inspire interesting fine art practice.

So, not every selfie is art but if taken by an artist with a specific artistic intention I see no reason that a selfie cannot be elevated to the status of art.

Feeling perky

A post shared by cindy sherman (@cindysherman) on



Colman, David. “Me, Myself and iPhone.” The New York Times, June 30, 2010.

Farago, Jason. “Cindy Sherman Takes Selfies (as Only She Could) on Instragram.” The New York Times, August, 6, 2017.

Mullooly, Shanae. “The Self-Portrait to the Selfie.” Shanae Mullooly, June 6, 2017.

Murray, Derek Conrad. “Notes to self: the visual culture of selfies in the age of social media.” Consumption Markets & Culture 18, no. 6: 490-516.

Oredsson, Ellen. “Are Self Portraits and Selfies the Same Thing?” How to Talk About Art History, September 19, 2016.

Russeth, Andrew. “Facetime with Cindy Sherman: The Artist on Her “Selfie” Project for W, and What’s Behind Her Celebrated Instagram.” W Magazine, November 6, 2017.

Reflect on Portraiture: Good ol’ fashioned Oil on Canvas

When someone says portraiture what’s the first thing you think of? For me it’s paintings of aristocratic people from the Renaissance period. These paintings may seem a million miles away from contemporary portraiture. But, actually as we’ll see in next week’s blog, self-fashioning (which is widespread in Renaissance portraiture) is still occurring today perhaps more than ever via social media. Read on and decide for yourself if its possible to relate with these images today.  


We’re going to look at the portraits painted of one important, and lesser known, Renaissance figure: Isabella d’Este (1474-1539), the Marchesa of Mantua, who was a key female patron of the arts during the Renaissance period. Despite being a woman Isabella received an excellent education in classical subjects such as Latin, Greek, and Ancient History. She was also skilled at singing, dancing, and playing the lute. She was married to Francesco II Gonzaga, who was often away battling, leaving Isabella to rule Mantua as regent.

As a female ruler Isabella had to find new ways to protect and promote Mantua, a small Italian state. For Isabella art acted as diplomatic currency, by attracting artists to Mantua with the promise of patronage she increased its importance as a cultural hub. Isabella commissioned artists and craftsmen to make all sorts of objects for her; many of them were displayed in her grotto and some were given to people as gifts, such as the medals made by Gian Cristoforo Romano.

Gian Cristoforo Romano,  Medal of Isabella d’Este , 1498, cast bronze, diameter 3.75 cm, The British Museum, London

Gian Cristoforo Romano, Medal of Isabella d’Este, 1498, cast bronze, diameter 3.75 cm, The British Museum, London


Dosso Dossi,  Portrait of Ercole I d’Este , duke of Ferrara, Galleria Estense, Modena

Dosso Dossi, Portrait of Ercole I d’Este, duke of Ferrara, Galleria Estense, Modena

For Renaissance rulers a portrait was about more than likeness; it projected a carefully curated image of themselves which would aid them in their official duties. This type of image creation is called self-fashioning and we’ll explore it more next week when we consider selfies and online presence. For a male Renaissance leader, such as Isabella’s father Ercole d’Este, Duke of Ferrara, this meant appearing strong, intelligent, and militarily skilled, as these were the characteristics expected of a male leader during the Renaissance. As a woman, Isabella was expected to project different virtues than her father. Her portraits attempt to strike a balance between depicting her as a virtuous woman and a capable leader.




Titian’s portrait

Peter Paul Rubens, Isabella d’Este, 1600-1601, oil on canvas, 101.8 x 81 cm,  Kunsthistorisches Museum.

Peter Paul Rubens, Isabella d’Este, 1600-1601, oil on canvas, 101.8 x 81 cm,  Kunsthistorisches Museum.

Isabella commissioned many portraits of herself by artists who are well known today, including Leonardo da Vinci who produced a sketch of her; she has been thought to be one of the candidates for the identity of the Mona Lisa, 1503. Titian painted Isabella twice, the first painting was lost but we know what it looks like as Rubens made a copy of it. Isabella commissioned Titian to paint her when she was middle-aged, but she did not sit for this portrait, instead Titian painted it from a written description. Isabella disliked this portrait because it didn’t flatter her, and she looked old. She requested another painting from Titian, this time sending him a portrait painted of her as a young woman for him to work from.





Idealisation and beauty

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.

Isabella desired for her portrait to be idealised because youth and beauty were expected of Renaissance women. During the Renaissance, and for many years before and after, it was believed that your outward appearance reflected your internal virtues (or lack of). We’ll consider the effect of this belief more in the blog about idealisation.

Looking at the second portrait in comparison to the first you can get an idea of Renaissance beauty standards. Isabella has very pale skin which was fashionable, as a tan implied you worked outside and were therefore of lower class. Pale, almost translucent skin also implied the woman had nothing to hide. Isabella’s clothes are very fashionable; she wears ermine fur which is an expensive fabric and only worn by aristocrats. The plunging neckline of her dress and elaborate headpiece are both trends she started; Isabella is the Renaissance equivalent of an it-girl. As you can tell from this description, beauty was connected to money and status.

Is it a successful portrait?

Isabella was a key figure in the Renaissance, a keen collector of antiquities, a patron of the arts and a clever and diplomatically skilled female regent. How much of this is reflected in this portrait? Titian’s second portrait presents Isabella as a young, externally beautiful, internally virtuous, and rich aristocratic woman. But is it really a good portrait? If we judge in terms of likeness then is it unsuccessful, as it’s not what she looks like at all. Joyce de Vries has stated that the goal of the patronage of Renaissance females and male aristocrats was to: “appear great in the present and to build a legacy that would reflect their achievements for posterity.” If we measure success in terms of how well the artist achieves the patrons wishes, then Titian was definitely successful in depicting Isabella as young, rich, and beautiful, no doubt how she wanted to be remembered.


De Vries, Joyce. Caterina Sforza and the Art of Appearances: Gender, Art and Culture in Early Modern Italy. Surrey: Ashgate, 2010.

Geddes Helen, Patrick M. de Winter, Gordon Marshall Beamish, Clifford M. Brown, Charles Hope and Janet Southorn. “Este family(i).” Grove Art Online. Last Updated October 2, 2012.

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).

Cindy Sherman Instagram, 2017, “Cindy Sherman Takes Selfies (as Only She Could) on Instagram).” The New York Times (August 6, 2017).

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.

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.



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.

Leftovers: Artist interviews x2!

Charlie Astill

What does this exhibtion signify to you? 

Leftovers signifies to me an ending of my final collection of work that I have achieved over the last 5to6 years starting from my college work, my university work, and my personal work. It's nice to see it all come together!

What do you like about your work? 

I've never really liked my work that I have always produced.. never felt confident that it was good enough.. Could say I've never been satisfied I guess. 

I like the fact that my work has developed into pieces that would be ideally for the home environment as a decorative piece or a functional piece, something that is just useful to have but a little edgy. 

What do you hope people who come to see your art will learn or feel? 

That it captures there attention immediately soon as they step into the gallery, but also makes them feel good around it. 

Where do you see your self heading in the future? 

I think the future is exciting for me as I am no longer going to be creating within the art field but hope to be using the skills and the creative fleek into something new and something a little different. 

Instagram: charlielbastill



Zory Rubel


What does this exhibition signify to you?
For me, as well as the chance to test some new pieces, the exhibition is a  way of showing what the Surface volunteers get up to outside of the gallery. Unusual as it might sound, not everyone's artwork or creativity is shared that often between us, so I think it's lovely to perhaps see another side to everyone. 

What is your creative process/routine like?
It's essentially a lot of collecting/hoarding of any images that interest me, which eventually get sorted through and paired up with anything that might be thought provoking, or strange or even amusing. 

What is your chosen media/medium?

I tend to work with collage because there's so much possibility. Because I usually leave them to be ambiguous, I find it's a bit more forgiving than painting (for example) because it can be done really quickly and sparsely.






Leftovers: Artist Interview - DISPLACED/REPLACED

What does this exhibition signify to you?

A culmination of a great year at Surface Gallery, where various creative minds come together to offer a new vision of work in a co-operative gallery.

How do you work, methodically or manically?

Neither. Generally it is instinctive.

What other work inspires you?

The main motivations behind my work derive from struggles for justice and peace throughout the world. In terms of other work, it has less to do with other artists. Justin Pearson’s ethos and work ethic continually inspires, as does DIY culture in general; the work of George Monbiot assists in addressing a vision for a new and better future; those who fight for animal rights and environmental rights especially during this age of mistrust and uncertainty; several street artists; the philosophies behind the Situationist International; my friends and especially my partner.

Is being an artist in Nottingham a good place to be?

Pretty hard to address this as I don’t consider myself to be an artist in the traditional sense. However Nottingham is a great place to live, one which has a history of rebellion and resistance. The changes that are occurring in the city are in the main positive, with the rise in independent places, however there is always the possibility of the ugly side of gentrification seeping in.

What is your creative process/routine like?

Research, read, repeat.

Where do you see your style heading in the future?

Who can predict the future? It’s about the present.

Where/how did you develop the idea for your piece(s)?

By talking, reading and looking.

What is your chosen media/medium?

Digital photomontage with glitch.

What subjects/themes do you explore with your work and how did that come about?

The obscenities of neo-liberalism, instances of injustice, the arms trade, the militarisation of society, the surveillance society, acts of resistance, the Anthropocene era, environmental damage, and the displacement of individuals both human and animal. The desire to un-ftw.

What do you hope people who come to see your art will learn or feel?

They can take whatever they want from it, it’s not my position to assume that a viewer will take something specific from it. 




Profile pic.jpg
The world has forgottern.jpg
We want a place to piss.jpg

Leftovers: Artist Interview - Gabriela Halszka Rogula

I’m Nottingham based artist, graduate from University of Derby.

I like to experiment with different techniques and materials such as drawing, painting,  sculpture photography, moving image and often combine them together. 

I take my inspiration from various streams, some from advertising, pop culture, the surrealist movement and personal experiences. My work is often if not directly political, then at least community driven.

My favourite artists: Krzysztof Wodiczko, Louise Bourgeois, Jenny Holzer and Rafael Lozano- Hemmer.

 About the work for this exhibition:

Work titled: Sexy boy

Work consist 8

 (10cm x 10cm)acrylic paintings on canvas.

The “Sexy boy” project is a product of a desire to create a balance in contemporary culture where lts predominantly female bodies that are exploited and subjected to constant objectivization.

The whole point of the work is to provoke discussion and hopefully encourage more artists to produce more images of male nudes, -there may occur accusations of hypocrisy, - but sometimes the only way is to fight fire is with fire.


Focus: Artist Interview



1. Why did you choose photography as your medium? 

For the first 4 years in education studying photography, I actually really hated the technical side of photography, I just couldn't get my head around it all but I loved what a photograph could tell you/not tell you. I tried art in GCSE and I just did not feel I was creative enough to create what I wanted too but it was different with photography (once I got the hang of the settings) and now I love it!


2. How do you choose the subject of your photograph?

I normally know the kind of look I want to photograph, so I'll just look for that. It's usually if someone/something captures my attention. 


3. What is your creative process/routine like?

Usually I struggle to find ideas for the first few days, then I'll cry in frustration, then something will usually come to me in the shower or something. Then once I've got an idea, you can't stop me! I feel like i'm very conceptual with my ideas, I find it easier if things have a meaning behind them rather than taking images for the sake of taking images.


4. What is challenging about photography?

Getting yourself out there, getting known and having your own unique style. Anyone can take a good photograph these days, especially with our evergrowing technology. You're competing with everyone!


5. Where do you see your style heading in the future?

I'm not sure, I started of with digital black and white photography, and a few years later I'm really into my colour 35mm film. I would love to know where I end up, however I do know I am looking to start trying more editorial/fashion based images!


6.Tell me about "Unladylike" 

'Unladylike' started when one time my mum told me to act more ladylike. I started to question what ladylike even meant. This was when feminism started to become very apparent on social media and I decided to look more into what was expected of women, not just now but also in the past. I found it extremely interesting so that fueled my motivation to make images. I wanted to subtly photograph things that i've experienced people be prejudice towards in the past, from body hair to posture. 


7. What effect do you think "Unladylike" has on the viewer and what do you hope it will achieve? 

I wanted to create a reaction, negative or positive, I don't mind as long as it got the viewer thinking. I'd ideally hope the viewer would question their own personal relationship on their expections with women, I also thought about doing the opposite and doing a male version. As I am well aware of the expections towards men, but maybe thats a project for the future.

Instagram: gracebristo


Interview by Dominique Mitchell (Writer in Residence)

International Postcard Show: Artist Interview


I lecture at the University of Derby in Illustration and set up the Wooden Dog Press with my friend & colleague, illustrator, Richard Levesley, to document some of our professional practice and to share our common interest in drawing, storytelling, and printmaking.

The Night Siren print derived from an artist book I have been creating for the Pages Book Fair 2017, Leeds which initially was inspired by the title “ Mermaids are Always Welcome” and the curious nature of the mythical creaturese and lure of the mermaids to sea fairing sailors. I am interested in creating a backstory and narrative to even a simple illustration and hope that the audience will also create their own interpretation of what they feel the characters and environments communicate.

My work consists of a series of personal and collaborative illustration projects in which I investigate aspects of artifacts, collections, curation and curiosity. My most recent work creates visual hybrids where one element is shown in proximity or even blended with another object or character. I invite people to consider their own narrative and to react to what they are shown. My work aims to create curiosity from the ordinary and less seen. I test the notion that the collection of objects, character and the environment they exist in, is thought provoking and that narrative value is subjective.

I prefer to work in silkscreen, mono-print and collage, as the processes offer the opportunity to create textures, mark making and layering of colour that I seek to enhance the uniqueness and individuality of the publications and the final prints. I am interested in challenging traditional processes and exploring their application in artists book, print and in this case the postcard format.




Twitter @derbyillustrate

Interview by Dominique Mitchell (Writer in Residence)

International Postcard Show: Artist Interview



Introduce yourself and your art.

I’m a visual artist specialising in painting and drawing.  My work explores the relationship between the past, present and future.  I’m influenced by the tradition of still-life painting, and use objects and environments as starting-points to create images which investigate space and time.


I graduated with a Fine Art degree in 2002 from the University of Hull (Scarborough Campus).  I can recommend studying by the seaside – it’s as fun as it sounds!


During my studies I was lucky enough to spend a month at the Cyprus College of Art as part of a student exchange programme.  Finding inspiration in the ways the modern world impacted the ancient history of the island helped me to establish my identity as an artist.


My art practice can generally be divided into two work streams:

-  Conceptual series of work created in response to a theme (over months and years)

- Observational one-off work created in response to an object or image (over a few days).


Where/How did you develop the idea for your postcard?

‘Taut’ was inspired by receiving a Spirograph set as a Christmas present.  I often receive art related gifts (including art materials and books, as well as completely unexpected items such as an Etch A Sketch and the Spirograph!).


The idea for the postcard developed after seeing the Spirograph back in the art studio alongside other more traditional artist materials.


What was your intention for your postcard?

Over recent years I’ve been exploring different ways to combine painting and drawing within a single art work.  The intention was to challenge myself to use the Spirograph as the starting-point for the postcard as part of this exploration.  I didn’t use a Spirograph when I was young (I’m discounting trying out my sisters when she wasn’t looking!), so the aim was to see what I could make out of my unskilled efforts in using this new tool.


Is this your first exhibition and if yes, how do you feel about it?

This is not my first exhibition, but it is the first time my work is being exhibited in 2017!  It’s always exciting to be involved in a group show and see your art alongside the work of others.  It’s also a great way to connect with like-minded and supportive creative people.


My work has been exhibited in various locations across the UK, as well as in Norway and America (and is currently more well-travelled than I am!).


It can be daunting getting your work out there. I’ve been both successful and unsuccessful when submitting work for exhibition.  My advice to anybody creating art work is:

-  Do it because you love it.  If your work becomes recognised and appreciated by others that is great, but don’t let be the reason you produce work

-  Don’t be disillusioned if your work isn’t always successful.  Learn from previous experiences and stay inspired – you never know what exciting opportunities that next piece of work might lead you to…


Does your postcard have any connection to today’s world?

My work expresses experiences of space and time, and how these experiences impact how we connect to the world around us.


I join objects that already exist in the world from the past and present together for the first time.  By expressing my personal response to that connection, a new object is created with its own future in the world.  ‘Taut’ is no exception and represents:

-  The past (a plastic monster figure collected from a cereal box as a child)

-  The present (the Spirograph received as a Christmas present)

- The future (the postcard itself).


What artists inspire you?

I’m inspired by many different artists but if I had to pick one it would have to be Jenny Saville.  You can get a sense of the history of painting within Saville’s work so it also reminds me of other artists who inspire me such as Seventeenth century Dutch still-life painters, Picasso, and Lucien Freud.


The commitment of Saville to painting and drawing techniques fascinates me.  I treated myself to an expensive book about her work many years ago (I couldn’t really afford at the time, but it was a great investment). It has fantastic close-up photographs of the brushwork within her paintings.


I always turn to this book whenever something isn’t going well with my own work, and it usually leads me to resolving whatever artistic challenge I was facing.


What research do you do for your art works?

Research for my art work tends to be focused on local history, supernatural phenomenon, and my day-to-date interactions with the world around me.  This informs the theory of my work and provides visual inspiration.


My methods of researching vary - from looking-up information on the intranet, to visiting local libraries, to taking photographs of places I visit.


I love stationery so have more notebooks than is necessary to write down ideas and record information.  I tend to capture visual research information using a digital or phone camera as it is so convenient.  These have gradually replaced keeping a more traditional sketchbook.


I aspire to get back to keeping a sketchbook as they are a great archive of source material (I still refer to ideas from sketchbooks I created during my student days).


Do you have a creative routine/pattern?

I have a full-time office job to ensure the bills are paid so my art practice is planned around this.  It can be challenging juggling work, family and social commitments with time spent in the art studio.  Finding a healthy balance isn’t always easy.


I try to ensure I have a balanced schedule of time in the studio with time spent away from my art work.  Despite this I do still sometimes fall victim to deadline pressures (and have been known to stay up for 24 hours to get an art work finished!).


In the past I would feel guilty about not producing art work at every opportunity.  Now I have a more realistic routine of making sure I do at least one activity related to my art practice each day.  This can range from:

-  A few minutes spent updating my website or social media pages

-  A few hours spent researching concepts or sketching out ideas

-  A whole a day spent totally absorbed in painting a canvas.


It’s amazing what progress can be made from even doing only one task each day.


What are you trying to communicate with your postcard?

There isn’t a specific message I hope to communicate with ‘Taut’, but hope people can relate to the postcard in some way whether that be:

- Recalling memories of using a Spirograph

-  Wondering what the drawn figure and colours represent

-  Thinking about how the ink and paint has been applied to the paper.


I often use one-word titles to suggest rather than describe what the work expresses about my own experiences.  I hope people can take away something from my work that makes them challenge and reconsider their preconceptions.


You can discover more about my work via the following links:


Facebook: Adam Brant – visual artist (

Twitter: @brantus (

Instagram: @a_brant_artist (

International Postcard Show: Artist Interview



Introduce yourself and your art.

I live in Northern NSW in Australia. Printmaking is my main interest at present, both intaglio and relief.


Where/How did you develop the idea for your postcard?

There are still many mangroves where I live.  They are dark and mysterious and full of marine creatures but further north there may even be crocodiles.  

What was your intention for your postcard?

I want to evoke a feeling of subtle threat and attraction of the mangroves.


Does your postcard have any connection to today’s world?

Because of the continued coastal development mangroves are disappearing.  As well as being interesting they are also very important places for the birth and development of many species of fish.

Which artists inspire you?

Egon Schiele, Klimt, Kentridge, Munakata, Hokusai


What research do you do for your art works?

I walk through the area and take numerous photos as well as sketches. I study some of the techniques used by master printers.


nterview by Dominique Mitchell (Writer in Residence)

International Postcard Show: Artist Interview



Introduce yourself and your art.

Hello, my name is Dawn and I am a still life painter living in London. My work investigates still life objects often re-painting the same object in order to learn how to visually describe them in, what I hope is, an interesting and engaging way for the viewer.


Where/How did you develop the idea for your postcard?

I have become a bit obsessed with painting oranges and other fruits at the moment so this orange painting is one of many. I find painting this small size really challenging which is one of the things that attracted me to entering some work into this exhibition.


What was it about the subject/content of your postcard that enticed you?

If you look really closely oranges are not very orange.


What artists inspire you?

I have always loved impressionist painters and feel very lucky to be able to live in here and be able to visit the National Gallery often to view some incredible impressionist pieces.


Do you have a creative routine/pattern?

Overthinking, then wine and then there is a point where you just have to get on with the painting!

Instagram: @dawnuart


Interview by Dominique Mitchell (Writer in Residence)


International Postcard Show: Artist Interview



Introduce yourself and your art.

My name is Natalie Anne Yosten, and my postcard is called Spirits Rising.


Where/How did you develop the idea for your postcard?

I was at my first Nebraska Husker Football game (American Football), and the balloons were released during half-time. It’s usually the time to get the home team reeved up for the next half of the game, or just to keep all the fans amused. It was a perfect moment, because the sun was about to set below the stadium. I took a picture on my Samsung Galaxy phone, right when the light was shimmering off the balloons as they rose to touch the light. It was a beautiful, exciting, and delightful moment! The crowd’s spirits seem to rise with the balloons all in a great cheer!


What  was your intention for your postcard?

To convey the beauty, passion, and spirit of the moment.


Is this your first exhibition and if yes, how do you feel about it?

This is my very first exhibition, and I’m extremely nervous and excited! To do it on an international level makes me nervous, because there are so many wonderous things in the world. If my work does okay, then I will be very pleased.


What was it about the subject/content of your postcard that enticed you?

It may be portrayed as whimsical or perceived a bit childishly, but I chose the balloons as a moment that could be from any part of the world. We all have events and festivals where joy is taken, and spirits rise in fervor to the music and the sounds from fellow participants! The world can be filled with horror, but for a moment it can be so light and beautiful!


Does your postcard have any connection to today’s world?

At the moment I would like to believe this would be an escaping moment most people in the world would cling to. Just a fleeting moment of joy, and I think we all try to hold the good times as long as we can. Keep them precious while we experience them, and as we try to recall them in memory. Our world is a grave place, and we all want to rise above the bad things.


What artists inspire you?

Well, I have always liked Josephine Wall’s Art, but for photography specifically I like Steve McCurry and Margaret Bourke-White.


What research do you do for your art works?

I will admit, I don’t research very much for my art work. When it comes to Photography I have become accustomed to just trying to capture the moment when I see a good one.

My inspiration usually comes when I am with friends, family, or in nature. I just snap a shot at what I think is good. I have learned about lighting, angles to pose in, and am trying to do more to create specific views. I still believe that many good shots happen on their own.


Do you have a creative routine/pattern?

No, I’m a hopeless amateur, and haven’t been able to get a good creative routine down. For now, I work off of the pressure of the deadline or by just being patient. Good times to take a photograph that doesn’t have to be edited are rare. I wait patiently, watching, camera in hand for those moments.


What are you trying to communicate with your postcard?

I try to convey with my postcards the feelings or thoughts that I have in the moment. I just hope that they are relatable enough for most people to understand. I prefer to take people out of their heads for a second, and make them see my point of view.

Interview by Dominique Mitchell (Writer in Residence)

Spirits Rising 

Spirits Rising 

International Postcard Show: Artist Interview



  I am a Year 2 Fine Art student of the University of Lincoln. My artworks centred around the beauty of everyday life and specific colours of cities. Through a delicate style of drawing and painting, my works aimed to capture a particular moment in our daily lives, as well as to raise people’s awareness to every object and scenery which we sometimes overlooked.


 As an international student studying in the UK, I often yearn to be home, Hong Kong. It was perhaps of the feeling of homesickness which inspired the idea of my postcard. The particular use of bright colours may be related to the famous night view of Hong Kong, as well as to link with personal experiences and memories.


Following the rapid development of our surroundings, fast-paced living habits appeared to dominate our everyday lives. By focusing on unnoticeable characteristics and features of a local area, I would like to remind, as well to encourage our society to pause and admire the pleasantness of every objects or scenery.


It is my first time to participate in an exhibition and I am feeling very excited about it. Not only does the exhibition offer me a chance to share my artwork with a wider audience, but as well to be involved in opportunities of a professional context, which may help in building up confidence and gaining experiences.


As my artworks relate to themes such as everyday lives and memories, all illustrations of scenes involved the process of visiting different places in person. During conversations with the local people, it allowed a better understanding of the area and its surroundings. With more knowledge of the background and history of site, a more suitable choice of media may be used to demonstrate a better representation.

Interview by Dominique Mitchell (Writer in Residence)

Treasure Hunt, Hong Kong

Treasure Hunt, Hong Kong

International Postcard Show: Artist Interview



Introduce yourself and your art.

My name is James Sutton and this is my postcard 'Marble Black & White'.


Where/How did you develop the idea for your postcard?

I've been working on marbling techniques throughout 2016, in my flat where I make space for my art. This was done through numerous types of inks and paper, along with some digital cleaning up for the final outcomes.


What was your intention for your postcard?

The intention I guess is to look, difficult perhaps because of it's size. With marbling I always had the intention for viewers to look at the works and find shapes and ideas within them for themselves.


What was it about the subject/content of your postcard that enticed you?

Marbling has interested me for a while now, with the intricate details and experimental fragility it offers when you implement it. The idea of unknowing how the end piece will look always enticed me along with the details you find in the small spaces with marbling. Like worlds within worlds you can look at pieces again and again to find new parts that hold your eye.


What artists inspire you?

Artists that I look at a lot include Rene Almanza, Doze Green and Dave Kinsey to name some contemporary artists that I have come to follow much more lately. I follow things like Juxtapoz on Instagram along with more generic art forums that always show new and inspiring works. There's so much art out there on display nowadays with Instagram, Pinterest etc that show daily amazing things it's sometimes overwhelming, but always inspiring.


Do you have a creative routine/pattern?

My work has altered a lot as I look to create new ideas and expand in styles. It usually comes from drawing or painting stuff continuously, having breaks from work always brings new ideas and practises to the front. I wouldn't be sure on patterns but routines fall into researching ideas and talking to others, thankfully my local in Lincoln has a group of creative individuals that work and drink in there. When I create it's in my lounge with a dedicated area where I have music constantly on. Instrumental musical works that let you flow with creativity and don't distract.

Facebook :


Interview by Dominique Mitchell (Writer in Residence)

Marble black and white

Marble black and white