Jonathan Yeo: Portraits at the National Gallery
Jonathan Yeo is famous for portraits of celebrities; Portraits aims to expand on this and display his range of subjects from the arts to politics. The show also features a previously unseen portrait of Malala Yousafzai, education activist whom the Taliban famously attacked.
The portraits are all oil on canvas works in a range of sizes, from the large portrait of Kevin Spacey as Richard III to smaller ones of Stephen Fry and a variety of others. They often have an odd, patchy, texture to them. It’s not quite identifiable as to what exactly the effect is driving at – at some points it seems to be mimicking fabric or cloth, at others it’s used as a stark way of representing highlights and shadows.
His portraits have a lot of character and expression; they are full of life and detail. Yeo has clearly attempted to catch the lines in the skin and facial features in a flattering fashion, however the lines often seem exaggerated to the point of uncanniness. The gender contrast is particularly amusing: the males take on an appearance almost to the point of folded paper, making them look as if they are constructed of particularly rounded origami. The women, by contrast, are often overly smooth. In an attempt to capture the bizarre and conflicting social ideals of beauty, they have ended up lacking definition. The result feels on the verge of magazine airbrushing, which is disconcerting.
There are several oddities in this display, and while they may take some getting used to, none of them are inherently bad. They add up to a very strong personalised style on Yeo’s part. There is a substantial amount of character in each portrait, and they are almost intriguing to look at. That said, the way in which the individual stylistic elements combine and play off each other may not be to everyone’s taste.
Jonathan Yeo: Portraits is at the National Portrait Gallery from 11th September 2013 until 5th January 2014. For further information or to book visit the gallery’s website here.