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Friday, July 28, 2017

How to look at art: Political portraiture

Napoleon by Jacques-Louis David, 1812; Barack Obama by Alla Tkachuk, 2013; Condoleezza Rice by Luc Tuymans, 2005
Napoleon by Jacques-Louis David, 1812; Barack Obama by Alla Tkachuk, 2013; Condoleezza Rice by Luc Tuymans, 2005

There are two distinct types of political portraiture. The portraits that are officially commissioned to commemorate a subject, to form political authority and to express wealth and victory (one example is a portrait of Napoleon painted in 1812 ).

Their focus is the facial expression that conveys the power of a sitter. In the past, such portraits were commissioned in numbers and galleries were built for their display.

And, the portraits that are done by artists of their own accord where artists often criticise their subjects depicting their arrogance and failure.

Both types have been in decline. For the official portraiture, the invention of photography and entrusting the job of depicting power to photographers made political portraits pretty dry.

For painters, the question arising was: What to do with political portraiture in our image-saturated world, and is there any point?

What is the point in painting an image of Barack Obama, for instance, when there are thousands of his photographs online?

How do you make political portraits work today?

The answer may lie in understanding and utilising our existing contemporary culture of images.

Artists don’t need to make ‘new’ images of politicians these days.

Paintings from a photograph that is downloaded from the internet and randomly cropped suggests the idea that the image is one among millions, as in the two examples painted in the last decade reproduced here.

‘One among millions’ is the real subject of political portraiture today.

A portrait of a politician that is seen everywhere and yet obscure. A portrait that is not either failure or victory.

Commission a portrait for your home or office.

Contact Alla on [email protected]


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