Taylor Wessing Portrait Gallery


This week we took a trip to London to visit the National Portrait Gallery and to see the Taylor Wessing Portrait Prize Gallery. Although a late start to the day because of the sudden outburst of snow in Southampton, we arrived to be greeted with this very grand building, which is the National Portrait Gallery. Im going to be honest, the art work in the National Portrait Gallery, although very good, did not capture my interest very much. However, the work in the Taylor Wessing Portrait Prize Gallery I was very interested in. Maybe it is because I am interested in more modern photographic work than historic paintings but I am going to talk a bit about the work I liked in the Taylor Wessing Portrait Prize Gallery.

On entering the Taylor Wessing portrait gallery, I saw this image below. This image was very eye catching to me. Created in 2014, the portrait is by Andrew Tift and the subject is Ken Livingstone, the first elected mayor of London in the 2000s.



Initially, I thought this was a photograph, but the closer I got I realised that it was acrylic paint on a canvas. I was amazed by the skill and talent that went into such a realistic portrait. Tift took over 1000 photographs of Livingstone in the summer of 2011, he then picked one and worked with that to create this painting of the scene. Tift said: “I wanted it to be a relaxed and informal depiction. One of the thinks Ken said to me during the sittings was that he always tried to appear calm during interviews and debates and never lost his cool so I wanted his pose to be calm, as if the viewer was in conversation with him and he was listening. I liked the idea of setting him  in his garden rather than against architectural symbols of London which he is associated with because it was his little patch of London and I think he is very much perceived as a down to earth figure.” (Tift, Andrew. 2014)

What I think are particularly strong points about this work are the way in which he composed his photographs firstly, and then his painting of that photograph. The chosen location, pose, camera position and gaze reflect the subjects personality and make the image stronger. Additionally, his use of colour is a key element in his image which makes the subject come into the foreground and makes the image more vibrant, adding character to the image and making it more eye catching which I believe is very effective in the overall effect of the image.

Another image that stood out to me when looking around was by Julian Opie, featuring Sir James Dyson as the subject. Dyson is most well known for designing the bag-less vacuum cleaner in 1978. This image was made in 2011 by printing inkjet onto a canvas.


When I came across this image, it really intrigued me. It was quite different to everything else that was featured in the gallery. His work was inspired by Patrick Caulfield and Michael Craig-Martin. The process of creating his images involves the reduction of photographs into figurative reproductions using computer software. “Opie is known for his highly-stylised images, in recent years Opie has adopted an increasingly nuanced approach, demonstrated in this portrait of Dyson, where the shadows and highlights have become more complex.” (Taylor Wessing, 2015)

I think the portrait is really strong because the way that he uses black outlines and flat areas of colour. This effect makes the image look different to the usual portrait, making it unique and interesting. I find it intruging how this image looks computer generated, yet looks realistic at the same time. Additionally, the creative use of light and shadows creates great contrast, making it more striking to the viewer. Overall, the photograph is very cleverly thought out and it extremely eye catching.

I really enjoyed this trip to the portrait gallery and I liked the majority of the work shown. After looking at these two images in particular I would like to experiment with some of their techniques used in their images. Predominantly, their uses of colour. Being, to use vibrant colours as a way of emphasising reality. And the use of flat colour and black outlines to define the subject and create an image which looks different to the expected portrait.


© Kirstie Wilkinson



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