Japanese sumi ink & acrylic
What is a portrait? One stereotypical idea which has been held by every civilization in the globe from ancient times up to the present is, I believe, to display dominion, power and glory as a symbolic image. Conventionally, it was used only for the deification of majesties and sovereign powers. However, with the passage of time, this idea has become diversified and its meaning multilayered, and as a result its means of expression has changed dramatically. With the advent of the art of photography, the traditional values of portraits were brought into question, forcing painting to explore alternative possibilities. This would subsequently be considered one of the key factors in shifting the course of art history from Modern to Contemporary. However, a portrait should be the social and personal similitude of the sitter, the likeness delving deep into the inner being of the sitter, and it should comprise a negotiation between the artist, the sitter and often the client (patron). These fundamental ideas have never changed.
Several years ago I went to see a retrospective exhibition of L. S. Lowry, and I found myself utterly fascinated by his work, particularly his self-portrait. The work depicts a steeple-crowned tower in the midst of a vast grey ocean. The tower is also grey and bare. I could not tear my eyes from the work, which exposes the lonely and upright heart of the artist. Indeed, there is no likeness of Lowry in the picture despite the title “self-portrait”. Lowry also painted numerous “house portraits”, some of which were included in the exhibition. In these, we encounter the paradox of portraiture. Even if it fulfills all the conditions described above, can a portrait perfect? Is there a possibility of portraying those who didn’t/ don’t/ won’t exist in front of the artist physically as a sitter? This is the ultimate question, which goes to the root problem of visual images. The distance between seeing and being seen, virtual and real, affectation and substance, gender, flesh and spirit, and existence and nonexistence... - the potential of a portrait is infinite and immense.