Paint Box

Saturday, 30 July 2011

Double Portrait Research

Post tutorial with Angela, I have begin to investigate double portraits. Yesterday I visited the BP Portrait Award and Glamour of the Gods at the National Portrait Gallery. I always go to the BP - it seems a good (and free) opportunity to see a range of painted works in the portrait genre. There seem to be some artists who exhibit again and again - 55 works selected from over 2000 entries - I'm not sure if this a vast number of applications or not. The work this year tended to be quite tight, not many gestural pieces and some quite illustrative. I also looked around the permanent collection is search of double portraits which were few and far between...expecting to find more, I then looked at the online catalogue and found lots, predominantly photographs. Also found out that you can print in black and white for free(!) so came home with quite a selection. There seem to be particular circumstances when the double portrait is used (from my survey of npg - this is by no means an exhaustive list); royal and political portraits; creative pairings e.g. French and Saunders; curiosities, twins and performers (acrobats and dancers); family pairs, mother and child, husband and wife, siblings and double sketches depicting one sitter from two angles. There was less of the mirror than I expected, although I found a great image by Laura Knight in the shop, 'A Dressing Room at Drury Lane' (1952) - love the double mirror and girl meeting the viewer's gaze while the other dancer seems absorbed with her own reflection. 

I have begun to make a double portrait research wall in my studio with prints and postcards. Must also say that David Hockney is unavoidably part of my investigation - his double portraits use scenarios and status to create intriguing social and domestic commentaries. I have grouped my research so far into loose collections; boys - the princes in the tower, elizabeth peyton, gilbert and george; performers; girls - alice neel, claude cahun, nicky hoberman's playmates, twin-like, diane arbus and domestic - love, mother and child, friends.


Already I can see an area of particular interest emerging from this initial research. Although I will look further into family ties, it is the sense of reflection which hold my attention; either through similarities in appearance, twins etc or through a physical reflection in a glass. The inclusion of mirrors as props makes the gaze rebound between viewer and subject, and makes the subject seem stronger as they appear in multiple. Mirroring of body language and costume may also be an area which will link well with this line of enquiry. This also made me think of Roni Horn's second apart images again - I will explore this idea through continuous shoot photography and working on pairs of canvases to try and understand more about the process of constructing a double image. 

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