Featuring seven works by seven artists from our Permanent Collection.
On View: April 4 until September 30, 2023
Cup of Conversation with Curator Avery Geboers: May 13, 2023 at 1 pm
A portrait is more than just recreating the likeness of an individual. It is no longer reserved for the powerful and prestigious, rather it has shifted to exist for the ordinary and the everybody. Portraiture can provide deep insights into someone’s life, allowing us to see how they view themselves, the people around them, and have made sense of their place within their wider culture. Face Time provides an opportunity to sit one-on-one with 7 artists from the Art Gallery of Northumberland’s Permanent Collection, to learn about their practice, their history and their life as it exists through their artworks. While not every piece is a self-portrait, each calls to question a different facet of the artist’s life and the ways in which it is deeply intertwined with their sense of self.
Richard Hamilton is a British artist, from London. He studied at the Slade School of Fine Art at the University College London, after getting expelled from the Royal Academy of Arts due to academic differences. In 1956 he was a part of an exhibition titled “This is Tomorrow” at Whitechapel Art Gallery in East London. It was here that he first presented his collage “Just what is it that makes today’s homes so different, so appealing?” This collage of a muscle man and pin up model inside a chic, modern living room, composed of images taken from American magazines and advertisements, would later come to be known as the first piece of Pop Art and set the tone for the movement that followed.
With his piece “Self Portrait,” created in 1966/67, mimicking a Time Magazine cover, we see Hamilton placing himself within the print media he so frequently used and critiqued. Time Magazine’s actual Person of the Year in 1966 was General William Westmoreland, who was the primary commander during the Vietnam War. The following year in 1967, Time’s cover feature celebrated Americans aged 25 and under as the “People of the Year.” Between those two years, we have Hamilton’s mock-cover of himself. His flat peachy face, purple lips hanging slightly open and two hard, dark dots for eyes all weakly defined by thin linework replace the stoic and modeled faces that typically fill the magazine’s cover page. Across the top left corner where the title “Man of the Year” would usually be placed, is a blank diagonal banner. Hamilton’s work calls his own practice into question. Having built an illustrious career off of notions of mass media consumption, his Time self-portrait places himself in the spotlight of the very culture he critiques. The work becomes almost ironically metaphoric as Hamilton shifts from a consumer of media to the media itself.
The photograph of Evan Penny’s sculpture “L. Faux Colour #1”not only showcases his technical expertise, it is also a record of an integral conceptual shift in his practice. After roughly 10 years of working as a special effects and prosthetics artist in the film and television industry, he would eventually return to a full time art practice in 2000 and his 5-year L. Faux project would begin. The piece within the AGN’s Permanent Collection is a part of a larger body of work dedicated to contending with how we define ‘reality’ vs ‘representation’ while under the influence of photography and media, which would become a conceptual foundation and jumping point for his later distortion pieces.
For context, the original sculpture of L. Faux was created from a photograph as opposed to a live model. As a result, the sculpture looks accurate when viewed frontally, but from any other angle Libby is skewed just slightly. Penny has mimicked the compression of depth that happens in a photograph into the physical sculpture. Even more unique to the photograph present in the Permanent Collection, is the lack of information the viewer receives. Reality begins to spiral when we consider the fact that our experience of the work exists in a hall of faulty mirrors; we see a photo of a sculpture created from a photo of a woman. Penny prompts us to ask the question of where within this loop does the human shift into object?
While Penny’s work urges us to consider the mortality of humanness through the efforts of representation, Michael Behnan’s portrait is a tender reminder of how the human experience exists as more than just visual depictions of one another.
Behnan was an artist and musician. For much of his career he was a printmaker, frequently creating portraits. He featured everyone from strangers to the long-time friends and neighbours around his home in Gore’s Landing. These portraits are typically monochromatic, with graphic black lines and exaggerated features, a fine line between realism and caricature that leads to his distinctive and emotive style.
“Portrait of Michael’s Father” becomes an interesting contrast to his usual aesthetic. The colour palette is simple, yet warm and lively. Not much is published regarding the relationship between Behnan and his father, but when we compare the artist’s usual visual style with this bright and energetic portrayal of his father, one can begin to infer potential reasons for this chromatic shift. While any artist or art lover will tell you that lack of colour is not synonymous with lack of meaning, this work still begs the question as to whether or not we can read Behnan’s use of colour, the warmth and tenderness of each brushstroke as an act of love?
There is certainly no question about art and portraitures’ intense ability charge a piece with emotion. Ronnie Kaplansky’s “Self-Portrait” showcases a deeply internal struggle. The stark white face and frantic eyes, visible despite being swallowed by heavy swaths of black and red. The force of the gaze and energy of the work are poignantly evident of the environment in which it was created. Ronnie Kaplansky worked primarily as a graphic designer, running his own design firm in Toronto for most of his adult life. He was always an admirer and lover of art and begun collecting works and building relationships with artists in his college years. Come 1975 Kaplansky suffered a mental breakdown and was admitted to a hospital for multiple weeks. It was during this time that Kaplansky shifted from admirer to artist. Art therapy became an instrumental part of his recovery.
Not only does this portrait shows us a profoundly intimate part of Kaplansky’s life, it also shows us how art can act as a saving grace. Art as medicine remained a prominent and important part of Kaplansky’s life. Not only did it provide a form of therapeutic support for himself, but he also saw the value it could provide for others. Motivated by his experiences, Kaplansky would become the founder of Creative Art Gems art auction, a major fundraising event for Creative Works Studio, an art studio in Toronto that provides therapeutic support and rehabilitation through art to individuals living with persistent mental illness.
Humans are no stranger to the face of another; from people on the street, to our loved ones to magazines and the media, there is no shortage of faces to be seen. So what is it about portraits that feel so much more intimate and evocative? Perhaps unlike most of our encounters with another, within a gallery the works cultivate an ideal environment to facilitate direct, unobstructed attention. For not only do we just look at the pieces on the wall, but with each and every work there is a human face gazing right back at us like a reflection in the mirror.
– Avery Geboers