Art of the Day: Various by Adam Birtwistle (2002 – 2012)

  August 22nd, 2014

 
 
 
 
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      Adam Birtwistle (British, b. 1959)
       David Hockney, RA, 2002
       Tempera and gouache on linen paper

 
 
 
 
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      Adam Birtwistle
       Mr Jambon, 2012
       Tempera and gouache on linen paper

 
 
 
 
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      Adam Birtwistle
       Victoria, 2012
       Tempera and gouache on linen paper

 
 
 
 
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      Adam Birtwistle
       Cherie Blair, 2012
       Tempera and gouache on linen paper

 
 
 
 
 
     I just discovered the work of British artist Adam Birtwistle. The above examples are representative of what I’ve seen of his recent work — powerful portraits of disarming, bleak frankness often venturing into the unflattering or outright ugly. His style is furry, meticulously smudgy, smartly vague in places (creating patches of mystery and confusion in his subjects’ faces); at other times it’s naive & child-like & reminiscent of folk art — he’s highly effective in either mode. His subjects are typically positioned bottom-center, engulfed in a dark-colored void, often black, above and around them. This has the simultaneous effect of rendering them innefectual, shabby — but also unreal and powerful, like undead sentries watching & smirking from the dark tunnel of worlds’ end.
     Frequently his backgrounds feature, like ghostly wallpaper, spare line drawings of animals or other figures & objects which sometimes are clearly related to the subject (take the case of his portrait of Malcolm Luther King [not included here], which features a slave ship behind him), & which sometimes bear no clear relationship to the subject at all. Mostly he depicts historical and contemporary figures, but at times, as in the case of Mr Jambon (above), the subject’s real-world counterpart, if any, remains obscure.
     I love his work. You feel quietly guided through a backdoor of the soul of his subjects, through & under brambles and shadows which most portraits rarely approach. His charming, splotchy, scratchy style (especially around the eyes and mouth — check Jambon for instance, or Hockney’s right eye) makes his subjects murmur and tremble, on the verge of many simultaneous emotions. His humor adds one more vital ingredients to his paintings’ complex, potent affect: whether its the saggy indeterminacy of Queen Victoria’s garments, the beady little eyes he paints in so many of his pieces, his subject’s occasional stray unkempt hairs, or his decision to dress many of his modern-day subjects in medieval-esque garb (seek out Jessye Norman’s [not included here]). These are humans somehow both fully revealed in their clownish, pocked, un-idealized fleshliness, and also capable of arresting our attention with old, silent, cold powers and secrets.

 
 
 
 
 
 

MORE INFO:

For more information about Adam Birtwistle’s paintings, please check out www.piano-nobile.com as well as artrabbit.com.

[posted by C Way at 2:27 PM]

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[file under: ART OF THE DAY ||| paintings/drawings ]



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