[image_with_animation image_url=”8775″ alignment=”” animation=”None” box_shadow=”none” max_width=”100%”] Preparing for my Unconventional Portraits class, I found this post on WideWalls: a top 10 list of the most influential living – or barely dead – famous portrait artists. You don’t have to like them, but you should know about them. I’m posting my personal thoughts about each of these artists at the end of this email. Jenny Saville Kehinde Wiley Rineke Dijkstra Jonathan Yeo Chuck Close Francis Bacon Cindy Sherman Nan Goldin Lucian Freud JR Jenny Saville – Artist Brut (No More) A part of Charles Saatchi’s Young British Artists group, Jenny Saville made her name in art by using haunting portraits of flawed, almost grotesque naked human body in all its glory and flesh. Her paintings challenged beauty in unprecedented ways and presented stunned viewers with new ideas of the aesthetics, ones that breathe exaggeration, mutilation, even violence, as inevitable parts of our reality. Lately, however, Jenny Saville embraced more beautiful topics and scenery for her portraiture, as her nudes of female figures and sometimes children became more sensuous and less ironic, although the artist is in no way passing judgment and it still committed to fighting the objectifying of women in paintings made by male artists. Kehinde Wiley – Painting the World Stage If there’s a famous portrait artist who successfully mixed traditional paintings with contemporary visions and topics, it has to be Kehinde Wiley. The American painter creates canvases inspired by Old Masters like Rubens and Jacques-Louis David, except his models are young black men who pose in front of colourful patterns – and not just any patterns, but those that refer to textiles and decorative motifs of different cultures, such as Judaica paper cutouts and Martha Stewart’s interiors. Kehinde Wiley’s art calls out the issues surrounding racial identity and the widespread stereotypes concerning African-Americans around the planet, as individuals and group. His ongoing series of works entitled The World Stage sees models from a variety of urban settings painted in a glorious, impeccable manner. Rineke Dijkstra – Capturing Honesty A video maker and photographer form The Netherlands, Rineke Dijkstra is known for her comprehensive body of portrait photography she’s been creating since the early 1990s. These large-scale color photos are of young, typically adolescent subjects based on 17th century Dutch painting in both their scale and aesthetics. In particular, her Beaches series, taken between 1992 and 1996, she photographed adolescents in their bathing suits on beaches everywhere, and it was the beginning of an extraordinary journey. Rineke Dijkstra develops a special kind of relationship with her subjects, getting them to unveil hidden parts of their personalities by making them comfortable in front of her camera. Her work is often considered to be a contemporary take on the documentary vision of German photographer August Sander. Jonathan Yeo – A Painter of Celebrities When it comes to Jonathan Yeo, his art is peculiar in many ways. Firstly, he paints celebrities, politicians and other influential figures of our time, in the age of digital photography. Secondly, they are not just plain paint-on-canvas kind of artworks; rather, he employs cut-out imagery from pornographic magazines in order to make realistic collage portraits. He rose to prominence after creating a collage of George W. Bush made entirely out of such pictures (fun fact: he was alledgedly persuaded to do so by Banksy), and has been one of the most popular and famous portrait artists among the famous ever since. Much like his aforementioned colleague Jenny Saville, Jonathan Yeo often depicts the concepts of plastic and cosmetic surgery as one of still orthodox topics in our society. Chuck Close – Look Closer You know we’re talking about a legend here if we say that Chuck Close reinvented painting and set new standards in portraiture in general. From afar, his artworks might look like regular depictions of human face, but getting up close we find out that they are composed of individual color squares or photos, carefully placed to make a bigger picture. These paintings hold another value, as Chuck Close suffers from an inability to recognize faces, and since he’s been paralyzed in 1988 following a rare spinal artery collapse, he’s been painting from a wheelchair, using a brush-holding device strapped to his forearm and wrist. Recently, he’s also been working with, printmaking and wall-size tapestry based on Polaroids, some of which depict fellow artists like Roy Lichtenstein and Lucas Samaras. Francis Bacon – A Portraitist of Despair “I feel ever so strongly that an artist must be nourished by his passions and his despairs. These things alter an artist whether for the good or the better or the worse. It must alter him. The feelings of desperation and unhappiness are more useful to an artist than the feeling of contentment, because desperation and unhappiness stretch your whole sensibility.” These are the words of Francis Baconthat perhaps best describe the crude, distorted, tormented portraits and self portraits he donned to the world during a fruitful, 60-year-old artistic career. Francis Bacon too was inspired by the traditionally of Old Masters, even though this is perhaps not immediately clear in his unique approach to figuration – take one of his most famous series, Screaming Popes, which was based on Diego Velàsquez’s Portrait of Pope Innocent Xfrom c. 1650. Cindy Sherman – Master of Disguise Her own model, photographer, make up artist and costume designer, Cindy Sherman created her own stories and worlds, turning the clichés of the 20th century upside down. Her incredible, complete visual transformations are all well documented in her ever-lasting series of self-portraits examining a woman’s role in modern-day society and the way she’s been oppressed and misrepresented. To date, her most famous body of work surely is Untitled Film Stills, taken between 1977 and 1980, in which the photographer recreates imaginary movie scenes and calls out stereotypes of the female lead. One of the most famous portrait artists and the most successful female creative out there, Cindy Sherman continues to reinvent herself and the concepts of self-image even today. Nan Goldin – Portraits of the Underground Some thirty-three years ago, Nan Goldin began working on her acclaimed photographic series The Ballad of Sexual Dependency, a raw, bold portrayal of friends, lovers, acquaintances and herself, living in the hidden layers of Lower East Side. Universal yet deeply personal, more than 700 of these images reveal shocking truths through a poignant kind of visual poetry, as immediate and direct as it could possibly be. Nan Goldin’s is a testimony to drugs, sex and ravaged youth in a turbulent decade, which is in part an autobiography, a visual diary that came to predate today’s obsession with the documentation of own life using smartphones. A captivating storyteller, she employed her camera to capture the lost innocence of an entire generation, to which we can still relate to this day. Lucian Freud – Portraying the Psyche Using his unflinching observations of anatomy and psychology, Lucian Freud only painted people who were close to him – friends, family members, wives, misteresses and himself. For over six decades, his recognizable style remained unchanged, based on an intense relationship he had with his usually nude models which came as a result of notoriously long sitting sessions (perhaps he inherited the love of a psychoanalytic practice from his grandfather, Sigmund Freud). One of the most prominent figures of figurative realism in the UK and beyond, Lucian Freud managed to get away from avant-garde influences of Pop art and Conceptual art, sticking to being conventional, yet strikingly meticulous and consistent. His self-portraits are also numerous, as he obsessively painted himself until his last breath. JR – The Photograffeur In the manner of a proper graffiti artist and photographer, JR places his enormous paste-ups on buildings, houses, streets and other urban elements in order to raise social awareness. His artwork can be found almost everywhere, as part of what he likes the call “the largest art gallery in the world”, and because of the uniqueness of his ideas and working methods, JR is a success as big as his projects. From images uniting the Israelis and the Palestinians located on each side of the Separation Barrier, to Women Are Heroes which highlight the plight of women in conflicts and the famous Inside Out Project that involves portraits of members of different communities, all of these initiatives have been highly influential and continue to gain many followers and admirers. source for content above: https://www.widewalls.ch/famous-portrait-artists/ [divider line_type=”Full Width Line” line_thickness=”1″ divider_color=”default” custom_height=”40 Here are my personal thoughts about each of the above artists: Jenny Saville – It was love at first sight for me, Saville’s series of gigantic fat grabbing ladies. They weren’t flaunting sexy, they weren’t idealized or small, they were enormous layers of direct, ample, unpretty flesh. Yes, yes, and more yes. Finally, people with female bodies could be as brut as men in the pictures. Thank you, Saville!!! As a painter, I’m very attracted to this style of painting in which layered and broken colorfields (juicy color swaths) give contemporary twists on classical painting. It’s pretty simple, all you have to do is put the right color in the right place, only not exactly, and you get to leave some parts as informal and unselfconscious process marks. (Irony alert: It’s hard.) Saville later did a series of figures in movement, expressed by multiple arms and overlapping figurative parts. I’m sure it’s no surprise to you that these were a major influence on my own work. I lost some enthusiasm with the gruesome series that followed, but I did not lose the love, and she still has my great respect. Now… it sounds like she’s painting pretty? I need to check this out. Kehinde Wiley – Yay for the man, boo for the paintings. They say he paints like the Masters, but to put his paintings beside a “Master” Wiley’s portraits look like Disney cartoons. I respect the movement, I can’t stand the paint. Rineke Dijkstra – I don’t spend a lot of time looking at portrait photography. Also, I don’t spend a lot of time looking at portrait photography that looks this… I donno… like an advertisement? But now reading the article and checking out a few more, I find I’m enjoying the awkward grace in the poses, as well as the stark compositions. The lighting in most of them are particularly un-art-like. Try finding a core shadow or a Rembrandt triangular highlighted cheek. There is no glowing hair. They look as flat as American Apparel ads. And yet… when I see a face or posture that strikes me (especially the beach teens and Israeli portraits) I can’t stop looking at them. Even as I write this I keep going back for more looks. There’s something here for sure, and as soon as I figure out what heck it is, I’ll tell you. Jonathan Yeo – Blah blah blah celebrity portraits blah blah blah boring I don’t care… except… he did that great portrait of Kevin Spacey’s character Frank Underwood in the House of Cards. This article in the Daily Beast reports that his children have been babysat by Camilla Parker Bowles, Nicole Kidman, David Cameron, Damien Hirst, and Malala Yousafzai. Who the heck lets Damien Hirst watch their kids?!? If you read the article, check out the last portrait of the woman in light brown – the portrait of Malala Yousafzai. The finished quality of the hands (take THAT Kehinde Wiley, you candy-fluff-hack), and the open grid system and almost no paint on the figure’s form, punctuated by the beautifully rendered geometric fabric – It just rocked my world. Chuck Close – I am fascinated by a portrait artist with profound facial blindness, and all that went into his inside-out process. I will look at a Chuck Close painting, drawing, or print plan for a long time. The finished products themselves – meh. Francis Bacon – I have been in a repellant adoration affair with this artist since I first saw his work. I was young enough that I don’t remember, but even now his work continues to be fresh and challenging for me. The compositions, the paint, the imagery, the character and the movement, all so incredibly brave. 5 stars for Bacon. Cindy Sherman – She lives in art school land for me. I read about her, I listened to smart people talk about her, I gave her my appropriate dutiful (weak) art student attention. She certainly deserved it. Now I’m done and I don’t want to talk about her, or listen to anyone else talk about her, any more. So there. Nan Goldin – These photographs are impactful and intimate. Many of them document mini narrations – important pieces of America’s underground culture, including the AIDS epidemic in the 80s. Looking now at polaroid style photographs of double black eyes, drugs, booze, chain smoked cigarettes, and all the evidence of personal entrapments, (except a giddy “Yay!” for the trannies dressing up in cheap motels), I feel I should embrace these, but find instead I have a limited capacity to take these in. Lucian Freud – He’s a narcissist bastard of a man, a real prick, and I adore him almost as much as I love his paintings. I’d likely cling naked to his pant leg too, if he’d have taken me when he was 87. His paintings took me some minutes to adjust to, they were so incredibly ugly, but I couldn’t stop looking at them. I am fascinated by how he’ll distort a face into something even more natural than reality, but it’s the paint application – piles of gritty filthy dulled out colors – that most hold my attention. His work still continues to challenge me. JR – Hell yes. This man is fun, he is funny, he is savvy, and he is smart. I admire how he applies his work socially. Hey – take my Unconventional Portraits class. We’ll make some pictures. We’ll do stuff.