Portrait

18th June – 24th July

Photograph, Crescent Arts, 2016

Photograph, Crescent Arts, 2016

Sat 18th June – Sun 24th July
Fridays – Sundays 11.00am – 4.00pm
and by appointment.
Admission is free.

Portraits can hold our attention like no other form of representation. This may depend on who’s in the portrait or who created it, how it was made, when and where it was made, and why. Most of us have personal albums of portraits that we continually add to and share with others especially, these days, through social media. It seems a vital part of how we navigate the world and our lives.

If we think of portraits we naturally think of faces. It would be strange, and difficult, if we did not have the facility to recognise faces or could not interpret and respond to facial expressions as a normal part of our day to day activities. From the moment we started to create images, the portrait came into being through visual representations and likenesses of ourselves and those in our immediate circle or wider society.

This exhibition explores portraiture and features an intimate community of portraits made by participants in a recent workshop at Crescent Arts. We have expanded this with a collaborative installation by our resident artists which poses further questions about the nature of portraiture; more specifically the self-portrait. There’s also an open invitation to visitors to draw their own portrait as part of experiencing the exhibition.

Resident artist Ruth Miemczyk devised a portrait drawing workshop that asked participants to adopt different approaches to creating a portrait, giving more consideration to the process than we might otherwise. It began by drawing from observation, working with a live model. This activity concentrated on observing, mapping and plotting the features of the subject and capturing this with pencil on paper. While there was no intention to allow individual expression to influence the process, the resulting drawings are easily distinguished by the ‘signature mark-making’ of the individual. The intention to capture a tonal portrait without the use of line, still using only pencil on paper, revealed more scope for individual expressive qualities in the drawing. Participants were then asked to create an ‘imaginary’ self-portrait which does not rely on external features or observation. Instead the drawings set out to objectify interests, influences, feelings, emotions or psychological aspects of each individual. Seen together these drawings start to reveal complexities in our relationship to portraiture, combining both ‘other’ and ‘self’ within any given portrait.

Many of the earliest surviving portraits seen in our museums and galleries depict notable figures down the ages and are quite likely to be idealised, more symbolic and representative of cultural identity, status, position, wealth, achievement, immortality or sometimes deity. Most of these tendencies persist in contemporary portraiture and if we visit The National Portrait Gallery or look at stamps, coins or banknotes we can find examples. While the main purpose of such portraits may not have been to describe individual features closely, the attempt to create a likeness was inevitable. Recognition of the subject is clearly important and is also reflected in more intimate portraiture. Ancient Greco-Roman funeral portraits, for example, are fascinating in that their subjects are often in the prime of youth and appear in good health, so the portrait would seek to evoke a personal memory which in turn relies upon a strong ‘likeness’ captured at an ideal time of life or at a good moment – a forerunner of photography or digital imaging.

Photography, and more recently digital imaging, might be thought to have replaced other media, painting and drawing for example, in offering the facility to create a good likeness. This may be true, but also draws attention to our more complex relationship with portraiture. There are plenty of examples of the photographic portrait that seem to offer more than ‘superficial likeness’ and we persist in differentiating between portraits that aim for a physical likeness and those that set out to reveal other, perhaps more insightful, characteristics of the subject.

We welcome schools and colleges to the exhibition and will be happy to make arrangements for your group to visit at a time to suit you. We can accommodate a group of up to twenty at any one time. Please email us to request a group visit with the subject ‘visit’: info@crescentarts.co.uk

Self Portrait, pencil on paper, Ryan Gibson, 2016 (Cropped for website)

Self Portrait, pencil on paper, Ryan Gibson, 2016 (Cropped for website)