Image credit:  Boo Ritson, At the Diner, 2009, triptych consisting of three archival digital prints on somerset paper in a single frame designed by the artist, 229 x 300 cm, courtesy of Boo Ritson and the Alan Crista Gallery, London.

Behind the Mask

Halim Al-Karim, Glenn Brown, Nae Bunthita Indhawong, Faye Claridge, Hew Locke, Eleanor Moreton, Boo Ritson, Cindy Sherman, Gillian Wearing, Zhang Xiaogang.


This exhibition brings together a diverse group of artists who engage with the history and iconography of portraiture to create works that relate less to spedific individuals and more to contemporary issues around identity, history, culture and representation. Working in a wide range of media including painting, photography, performance and installation, the artists adopt strategies including veiling, distortion and disguise to create challenging and compelling works of art.


Halim Al-Karim is an Iraqi artist now living in the United States.  His large scale photographs are presented as triptychs.  Images are initially taken from film stills, artworks or artefacts and are then presented to us as blurred and obscure. 


Glenn Brown is interested in our perception of images within a data-saturated world.  Images relating to popular culture, the history of art and current affairs are relayed into our homes through TV, cinema, the Internet and the media.  Though Brown’s work is wide-ranging in content, he has made many portraits based on well-known works of art.  


Faye Claridge has consistently engaged with portraiture within her work and has in the past used masks and highly theatrical sets to undermine and challenge the history and traditions of the genre.  In a bizarre but thought-provoking series of works, Morris men (and women and children) were photographed in their full traditional regalia with elaborate costumes and props, sometimes with their faces covered or blacked-up. 


Nae Bunthita Indhawong has photographed Nigerian women in Brixton, London.  The women have been photographed in their traditional garments.  They have been photographed from the back so that individual features are not apparent and the resulting forms appear to be quite sculptural. 


Hew Locke works with a wide range of media and has frequently interrogated the notion of British-ness with regard to cultural difference.  In a series of works entitled How do you want me?, Locke has photographed himself encased within elaborate, decorative structures and backdrops.   


Eleanor Moreton is also interested in interrogating portraits from the past.  In a series of small paintings, she has drawn upon key historical figures from Austria such as Emperor Franz Joseph, Sigmund Freud, Adolf Loos, Maria Vetsera and even the demonic Josef Fritzl.   Found images from newspapers and magazines as well as reproductions of formal portraits provide the original frame of reference.  


Boo Ritson cleverly engages in dialogues around painting, photography and performance within her work.  Her portraits are created by painting live models with emulsion paint.  The models are then staged and photographed, conflating notions of reality and artifice.  The artist has a limited time to take the right shots before the paint starts to dry out and crack, necessitating careful preparation and planning beforehand. 


Cindy Sherman has been producing work for three decades. Her work was recognised as groundbreaking and it continues to be relevant today. Throughout her career, she has been model, director, stylist and photographer and has created a myriad of fictional characters all played by herself with the assistance of make-up, wigs, prosthetics, props and backdrops. Her latest series of characters represent women of wealth and status.   


Gillian Wearing has played with the genre of portraiture throughout her career. This exhibition includes the work Self-Portrait as my Uncle Bryan Gregory. The work is drawn from the Album series in which the artist has represented herself as different members of her family including her mother, father, sister and brother as well as herself.  


Zhang Xiaogang’s strange and compelling large scale paintings have also drawn on the traditions and associations of the staged family portrait.   Zhang renders his paintings with a limited palette, primarily using black and white to mimic old photographs.  Small marks on the paintings seem to suggest flaws in the film or damage during processing yet the surface is clearly a painted one.