Sunday, May 1, 2011


According to the aforementioned definition of portraiture provided by Shearer West,  a portrait depicts a particular person with particular attention to the face and body.  Seeing as the face is a part of the body I decided to explore the body to begin with.

Sally O'Reilly's book, The Body in Contemporary Art, self consciously takes the stance against mind/body dualism that the self is "perceived as a synthesis of mind and body rather than one being a container for the other" (p8).

"The body has become inseparable from the social and psychological processes that perpetualy influence it" - p46

O'Reilly offers Roland Fischer's Chinese Pool Portraits, 2007; Bettina von Zwehl and the portraiture of Riceke Dijkstra as contributions to this idea of the body and mind as intertwined.  Portrait subjects tend to have an individuality about how they present their body or how they believe bodies are conventionally presented for portraiture (p32).  Awkwardness in the subjects' bodies betray aspects of their individuality by revealing certain vulnerabilities (p33).

Chinese Pool Portrait (4088, Zhu Zhu), 2007
Type C Print. 22.8 x 26.8 in (58 x 68 cm), edition of 10
55.5 x 63.8 in (141 x 162 cm), edition of 5

Roland Fischer's Chinese Pool Portrait, 2007 (above) stages the figures in such a way that their identities are concealed from the viewer.  Each subject is placed in the same way with a relaxed facial pose revealing little about who they are.  The reason I decided to include this in this post is because the body that's shown is similar to the bust which Arthur Wicks loaned me for my portrait of him.  These vaccuous present the opposite of an embodied self and show an un-psychological form of the face and body like a tabula rasa person emerging from a primordial goo as the self is disembodied.  The reason this is successful is because musch of the body is excluded resulting in less opportunity to view vulnerabilities or imperfections.

I consulted an exhibition catalogue for the upcoming exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery titled Inner Worlds:  Psychology and Portraiture, which I thought would be right up my alley for understanding the body/mind component of the portrait but to my surprise the exhibition seems to be a look into psychiatry and the minds of traumatised soldiers such as Albert Tucker, who painted 'psycho-portraits' (Harding, p139).  The shock of the war on the soldiers in WWII shattered their nervous systems which inhibited both their physical and psychological functioning requiring medication to comatose them on occasion (p142).   

The Inner Worlds catalogue doesn't include much information about the role of psychology in portrait painting and its usefulness in my portrait work for this year is limited, though a closer reading might reveal some interesting clues about where a critique of the psychological element of portraiture can be found.   Mike Parr's practice is briefly explored.  Parr's work keeps popping up as I explore the influences of both body and mind in portraiture with his endurance self-portraits and performance work.  

The Inner Worlds catalogue explores the psychopathology within artists rather than psychological aspects of portrait subjects.  Nevertheless it's a published catalogue of psychology and portraiture which shows the extreme end of the spectrum and a period in Australia which experienced a saturation of psychological discourse. 

Harding, Lesley.  'Albert Tucker and the Faces of War' in Inner Worlds:  Portraits and Psychology.  Edited by Christopher Chapman, 139-169.  Canberra, Australia:  National Portrait Gallery, 2011

O'Reilly, Sally.  The Body in Contemporary Art.  London, UK:  Thames and Hudson, 2009

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