This is a work of many layers, the earliest one being a portrait of Dorothy Quincy by American realist painter John Singleton Copley.
Quincy was the wife of the first man to sign the Declaration of Independence. So her portrait is also a slice of history, nevermind art history.
Shawn Huckins has reproduced this grave example of canvas-based nation building, using the poppier medium of acryllic rather than oil.
And the results gets fresher still as he overlays a frequently used piece of textspeak. This makes the 18th century piece of artwork look like a 21st century meme.
The words and acronyms float between ourselves and the subject. Just as the internet can bestow attitude to cats and owls, it can do the same for historic personages.
So viewed in a browser from the UK (owing to geographical limitations) Huckin’s work looks at first like a streetwise makeover for its targets.
But since poor Quincy would have had limited access to a mobile phone, it seems that upon reflection this apologia for drunken texting belongs to the artist.
And the title nails things down, addressing Quincy by name. Now the entire work can be seen as a drunken, and perhaps spurned, overture to realist portraiture.
In this work and others like it in the series, it is as if some crude textese is the only language the unrequited Huckins can find for his haughty subject.
Sure enough, the much maligned dialect of wired youth strips away the dignity and aspirations of America’s founding fathers. It lays pretension to waste.
The original portrait and the latter day texts call to one another across the lifespan of a empire that now appears to be coming to an end in rofls.
Like many a good artist’s studio, that of Lucian Freud required a mirror. And when David Dawson was in the studio it would have become a rich metaphor.
Freud‘s longterm assistant was also a painter. The master would also paint Dawson. And Dawson in turn made portraits of his employer – photographic, like the one here.
But in this shot, Freud is conspicuous by his absence in the room, then conspicuous again by his absence in the mirror. The brushes and the marks on his wall stand in.
It almost goes without saying that Freud is all the more present for being invisible. Just as he seems ubiquitous ever since he passed away last Summer.
Dawson is also absent, bur only up to a point. This is no baroque conceit like Las Meninas in which the artist includes his own mirror image in the composition.
Instead he gives the impression of this being an objective view of both ends of an empty studio. And in its way, that too is a bit of trickery.
It is a trick which captures the sad reality of this space on a top floor in Holland Park Freud can no longer be here. Dawson, after 20 years service, has no reason to return.
Published on Culture 24
Zachary Walsh – Greek Street, Ink_d Gallery, Brighton, until August 23 2009
Zeus has you fixed with a hard stare. It’s a surprise to meet him in the flesh like this and he looks avuncular, somewhat amused, yet quizzical. It’s definitely him because stretching out behind are eagle wings and to his side is an old-fashioned dial telephone marked with the word God.
The father of Olympus could look alive and well for two reasons. First, he’s painted in a contemporary style with a bold graphic background. Second, the sitter really is alive; the subject is also father of the partner of artist Zachary Walsh.
A picture of a painting of a woman in a white gown with a telephone in front of a cross
His wife, naturally, is painted as Hera. She too looks very much like someone you could meet in the street tomorrow. Walsh gives us a sense of her (slightly world-weary) personality, so that her realism comes as a shock. It’s not what we expect from our gods.
In fact all the models for this show are friends or relatives of the artist. It first took two to three hours to photograph each before working out their immortal counterpart. Needless to say the results are flattering. They also breathe new life into Greek myth.
Hades is cast as perhaps a louche, aging rock star. Persephone is a woman just past her prime. Hades and the Abduction of Persephone, as painted here, looks tender, touching and and entirely consensual.
Most of the settings in this show are flat plains of colour. Walsh also uses photographs to build on his interpretations. Hades is flanked with dinosaur skulls. Orpheus poses with a double bass. Of all the birds sacred to Aphrodite, she is here shown with the swan.
Walsh says his interest in Greek myth comes from the way each story offers psychological clues about every living human. “Even after millennia this insight is ever relevant, but really I just love the magic,” he adds.
The magic continues upstairs with some eleven pictures of Cyclops along with Medusa, a sparrow-like siren and Argus, the giant with a hundred eyes. These monster paintings are smaller, uglier and appear not to be portraits of friends and relatives. But if only they were.
Published on Culture 24
Fabiola, Francis Alÿs, National Portrait Gallery, London, until September 20 2009
Amid the many famous faces at the National Portrait Gallery are two rooms packed with 300 images of a fourth century Christian saint. It’s doubtful they capture her likeness, but they bear a striking resemblance to one another.
On all sides Fabiola gazes out in profile from beneath the hood of a red cloak. She comes in varying shapes and sizes, sometimes framed, sometimes not. Her image crowds every available wall and even runs over the doors.
The longer you look, the more differences appear. In at least two of the portraits she faces right or wears green. A handful are embroidered, one even made from varnished beans. Many are signed, by different people. Most appear to be the work of amateurs.
Their condition is as poor as their quality, which is a clue to what is happening. These portraits were not commissioned or bought from auction houses but picked up in flea markets all around the world over a 15-year period.
They share primary characteristics because they share the same original, a late 19th century impression of the saint by French painter Jean-Jacques Henner. His painting is now lost and the ones on display here are worked up from reproductions.
All of which casts the exhibition as another thought-provoking Francis Alÿs prank, especially given its context at the NPG – this is the same artist who sent a live peacock to an opening of the Venice Biennale.
But the latest show does more than poke fun. At the request of Alÿs, the walls have been painted a rich, ecclesiastical shade of green and by sheer volume the many kitsch pieces on display achieve a cumulative gravity.
These portraits may be copies of a copy, but that’s no reason not to take them seriously.