The Lens of Portrayal Drawing, documenting and depicting people has always been fascinating, where the privilege and liberty of looking at someone’s face comes to represent remarkable intimacy. As a sixth form student, my art teacher took me to see the David Hockney portrait drawings on show at the Potteries Museum & Art Gallery, Stoke-on-Trent. It was the 1970s, and my teacher shared his enthusiasm for a revival of figuration. My fascination to draw others was endorsed; and I also began working as a portrait model. At art school in the 1980s, the life room provided space both for reflection and the accumulation and acquisition of information, soon to be transcribed into paintings of invented, remembered, and memorialised narratives. It also provided space for affirmation, simply to find an equivalent to that moment in time in that singular space with that individual person. The modes of thinking about this activity were wide ranging, from the perceived conservatism of the academy to problematic issues levied through feminist and other political agendas. Nevertheless, it seemed to have a profound value to me and to what I wanted to make. A debate and discourse around figuration and portraiture was alive, through the exploration of pictorial language, visual rendering and the quest to form a perceptual equivalent to the experience at hand. A heady mix of influential works in my orbit dealt with “portrayal” of differing kinds: old, new, expressionist, analytical, observed; the genre examined through drawing included painting, sculpture, photograph, film and novels. The drawings of Kathe Kollwitz had a profound influence on me, with their intimately inscribed, but stark emotive depiction, of grief and despair; so too Rembrandt’s or Dürer’s self analysis [or portraits]. The emphatic capacity of these drawings seemingly traverse time, with their direct connection to the now, through the immediacy of mark, trace of observation and empathetic authenticity. The sharing of the personal or collective narrative via depiction of individuals to whom others/we can identify still seems critical to an understanding of the human condition.
In my own practice, the journey has moved towards the exploration of the role and function of the drawn self. Consequently, over an extended period of time, I have been making large-scale drawings that explore the relationship of the female subject, as the artist and model, with the defining acts of scrutiny, gaze and feeling embodied through the act of drawing. As the transcriber of information [and as a model] there is something affirmative about looking at a face, at the individual trace of lived experience and, through drawing, facilitating access through that observation to enable the connections to see what I was/am thinking and was/am looking at.
I was delighted to be invited to participate in this group, About Face, and to begin to explore an under-mined dialogue about the ‘edges’ of contemporary portraiture and to seek to re-evaluate the role of portrayal through the lens of creative practice.
Photographs by Nick Howard