Nottingham Castle Museum and Art Gallery, May-September 2017
Catalogue text by exhibition curator, Tristram Aver, Nottingham Castle
The portrait has continued to be one of the most recognised, revisited, and arguably the most celebrated art forms throughout history. Exclusive to Nottingham Castle, this exhibition demonstrates how classical and traditional figurative portraiture continues to inspire artists today, and remains relevant within contemporary artistic discourse.
Reportrait presents thirteen British (or British-based) artists who have reimagined historical portraiture, altered or disrupted typical notions of how the portrait is defined, or used an image or reproduction as a starting point to create something new. Consisting of new commissions made in direct response to Nottingham City Museums & Galleries collections, along with loans and works straight from the artist's studios, the exhibition showcases contemporary reinterpretations of portraiture through painting, photography, installation, digital art, sculpture, video and drawing.
Each artwork within this exhibition is rooted in history, whether directly or inferred. When an artist reinterprets an existing portrait from the past into something new, we are left with complex questions about authenticity, authorship, replication and re-contextualisation. At first glance we may recognise the source - especially where a historic painting, image or sculptural form is familiar to us - but each artist has made an unsettling step forward where original contexts have been exaggerated, altered, removed or even subverted into something fresh, challenging and ultimately, exciting.
In his recent reworking of paintings from Britain's colonial past, by the male artists who dominated the 18th century such as Francis Cotes (1762-1770), Joshua Reynolds (1723-1792) and George Romney (1734-1802), Wood-Evans is more than a student who simply duplicates the work of those masters he admires. He corrupts the image, enticing us with a glimpse of the original as if it were a ghostly form torn from a half-recalled, half-lost memory, akin to the sitters themselves who are fading or forgotten. Faces or recognisable features are scrubbed away or semi-rendered, appearing as an afterthought to the overall composition. Instead, we focus on the folds of exquisite garments, the reflective qualities of the fashionable silks and lace, the brass buttons or intense reds of military uniforms, and the apparition of an abstracted figure with obscured physiognomy lurking amongst tempestuous, sinister dark grounds.
This is a brand new body of work, made exclusively for Nottingham Castle, and includes a response to the collection with a reworking of a portrait of the Nottingham-born poet Philip James Bailey (1816-1902) painted in 1884 by John Edgar Williams (c.1821-1891).
Reportrait will be showing at Nottingham Castle Museum & Art Gallery from 27 May to 10 September 2017. For details on visiting click here.