Drawing one part 4 the face and the figure 2 research points – one on historical and contemporary Work on the face in different way and second research point – artists that works on self portraits

for this research point I have looked at contemporary and historical artists who work on the face in different ways.

The face has fascinated artists for centuries and has inspired artists in many different ways. I am particularly interested in drawing as an art form so have mostly focused my research specifically on drawing as a medium.

Renaissance artists often used red chalk as a drawing medium producing beautiful studies of the face using careful hatching and delicate lines to build up the form and structure of the head and to hi light the way that light falls on the planes of the face. I particularly like the way that Leonardo Da Vinci captures a face in a very delicate but detailed manner paying special attention to the facial features depicting facial expressions and the eyes in detail.  Many of the artists working at this time produced very detailed drawings but interestingly the hair is often sketchy and under developed but this is probably because many of these drawings are essentially  just studies for larger works . Certainly Raphael produced head  drawings  known as cartoons for working studies for a series of frescos that he made. In my opinion these beautifully executed head studies seem more interesting than the major works that were produced from them.

Artists from the latter  part of the Middle Ages produced work inspired by biblical themes. Much of this genre has a narrative construction so that the face of the figures within the work is often is used to depict the unfolding drama of the story – like actors playing a part –  facial expressions seem to play an important part in this genre of art work. Caravaggio painted several versions of the story of the last supper – in the 1601 version  entitled ‘ supper at Emmaus’ the figures of the disciples all seem to have unreadable and guarded  expressions but the Jesus figure is depicted in a much more expressive and contemplative manner almost reminding us that he is the most important part of the painting. Also the face of Jesus is lit  perhaps  Caravaggio Is reminding  the viewer that Jesus is the light of the world’.

From the earlier time in history the Royal courts employed artists to record life in the Royal circle and to produce portraits of the Monarchs and their family. Later the society portrait became popular and fashionable. Recording the sitters wealth ,processions and social positions. British artists Thonas  Gainsborough( 1727-1788 and Joshua  Reynolds (1723-1792 ) lead the field in this style of portraiture and produced several works  of richly dressed influential members of the upper and wealthy classes. This tradition of painting reminded popular into the early part of the nineteenth century,

Twentieth century artistic movements experimented with portraiture. The Favrist movement used their typical garish colours including the use of a sickly green as a skin tone. The expressionists used the genre to depict angst , the human condition and psyche . Picasso and the cubists explored the human face producing experimental portraits showing the different facets of the face on the one picture plane.

Contemporary artists working today still like to explore and experiment with portraits – using a variety of different methods and processes

American artist Elizabeth Peyton ( b.1965) uses a variety of different media including oil paints , watercolour, ink and pencil. Peyton often uses her family and friends as models as well as producing work inspired by her relationship with historical and modern icons. Most of Peyton’s work is astonishingly tiny “Chloe ” a portrait executed in coloured pencils measures just 8X6 inches. Peyton’s working process seems to me to be very careful and controlled she appears to build up colour, texture and form in layers leaving areas of the white paper intentionally untouched for the lighter tones?

Peyton also uses photography as a reference tool. Peyton’s earlier work explored 18th and 19th century literary and political figures. Peyton also produced drawings of the British royal family. Her first major exhibition included charcoal drawings of famous iconic figures such as Napoleon and Marie Antoinette. Peyton has this to say about her work “it’s about all the things that make up a picture, the feelings, the brushstrokes- more than describing somebody…………people latch onto the personalities when they talk about my work and forget the other part ( source Guardian newspaper interview 01/07/2009)

Peyton’s typical work process is to use fairly relaxed and natural poses seeming to put her models  at ease. Sometimes she focuses on an extreme close-up of the face or includes the hands to gently frame her subject. I particularly like the way Peyton captures the personalities of her sitters – in a 2004 pencil drawing of musician “Keith Richard” he appears reflective and contemplative .

Polish born  artist Agnes Grochulska now based in America has  produced some  strikingly beautiful charcoal head studies. She seems  to use the charcoal in a careful way using layers of tonal lines on top of her built up facial planes –  the effect is very sculptural with a very strong three dimensional quality to the drawing, but at the same time despite the solid structure of the drawing they manage to have a fragile quality .  Grochulska has this to say about what she is hoping to achieve ” I strive to convey the truth about my subject as I see it. I take my time to look at things to really look at things around me, and hope the viewer will see it , when they in turn take time to look at the work I have created ” I personally think she does seem to achieve what she aspires , I think her work is astonishing and she has a very interesting and fascinating style. Grochulska certainly appears to be a superb draftsman some of her most recent work is her response to 19th century French sculptor Auguste Rodin ( 1840-1917)

Mixed media artist Gillian Lee Smith (b.1972) again has a different approach to her art ,  which is also equally interesting .

Lee Smith is interested and inspired by storytelling. Her work tends to have a very narrative feel to it- even her head studies appear to tell the viewer something? The pastel head studies appear very emotive. They have a haunting ethereal and  unearthly quality . Lee Smith uses fine structural lines to build up the dimensions of the form. Many of these drawings to me have an  eerie quality – the eyes almost appear overdeveloped expressing emotions and maybe turmoil ? The flesh tones of the face is also sketchy with a startling deathly  un-natural pallor. Lee Smith has this to say about her art ” I paint characters that are rooted in my imagination puppets and dolls with heart and emotion ” I find it interesting that Lee Smith terms her subjects ” characters” . Certainly I feel that Lee Smith’s work does have an almost unreal quality – dreamy and , theatrical and strange – but it is also sensual and fascinating.

Scottish Artist Graham Little ( b. 1972) produces photo realism style portraits using gouache and coloured pencil. Little uses a very muted palette giving his work a old fashioned quality. There is a timelessness to his  work that also seems fairly intimate. Stylistically Some of Little’s work appears to be influenced by the 1970s and 1980s period – he seems to be concerned  also with capturing minute details such as the sitters clothing  and accessories and also fashionable surroundings. I feel that his sitters are aloof and that they are acting out a specific role rather than showing their true personality? Also I feel Little’s work is very reminisce of fashion journalism they almost look like pages out of a fashionable women’s magazine.  little has been often quoted as saying that he grew up fascinated with glossy magazines.

There is a group of interesting work that focuses on domestic scenes such as a woman cooking, laying tables that although interesting to me  seem to have have a humorous kitch   feel to them almost like “pop art” interiors? They are fascinating as they have a sense of nostalgia to them but I also feel they are quite decorative and fun. But having said this I am not sure that I myself am entirely comfortable with Little’s work as they seem very superficial? And lack the emotional response that the other artists I have looked at add to their work.

I really enjoyed this research project – it was interesting and insightful and also inspiring. I enjoyed learning about the working methods of each of the artists that I looked at  and how they engage with their sitters , how they interpret the face , sometimes adding meaning to it – that in some ways invites the viewer in. I feel I now want to really explore the genre.

note –  where there is no birth dates cited on the artists I looked at this is because I was unable to find this information.










Drawing now , eight propostitions by Laura Hoptman published by The museum of modern art 28/10/2002



After looking at how artists have depicted the face I then went on to  another research point looking at how artists both historical and contemporary have used self portraits in their art.

This research point is looking at self portraits.

I began by looking at historical examples of self portraits.

thoughout art history and across all cultures self portraits have been a major and important genre. There were a wealth of artists to chose from so I have had to make careful choices about which ones to choose.

German artist Albrect Durer ( 1471-1528) produced several self-portraits the earliest one dates back to when the artist was aged just thirteen. Durer used silverpoint as his drawing medium and it shows just how talented he was as the drawing is very competent. The self portrait is of the young Durer is drawn from the side profile and he looks to me  fairly solemn – it is a beautifully delicate drawing. Durer followed this with several other self portraits the ones executed when he was nineteen and twenty two show a young and very confident young man. They are both very decorative in tone he is wearing very elaborate and expensive clothing assumably showing us that he now very successful? Although he may have painted himself in such a highly decorative style as artists of his  timeline would be required to produce self portraits to promote their artistic skills to potential clients. What I personally like about Durer’s self portraits is that is uses a very similar expression on his face fairly coy but also confident and haughty. In his self portrait aged 28 Durer uses a pose looking face on that is usually associated with paintings of Jesus Christ – in Durer’s self portrait his very long fingers are seem pointing upwards towards his face with his eyes glazing directly ahead. I wonder what this symbolises?

Dutch artist Rembrandt ( 1606-1669) was very interested in portrait painting and during his lifetime he produced more than 90 self portraits over a 40 year period – recording his image from youth to old age. They are a really interesting body of work as we witness his skill at capturing all the physical changes to his facial features during the aging process.  It is also a good record of how his personal fortune improved as a result of his relative  artistic success as the self portraits of his middle years depict his growing  prosperity  – he is wearing expensive clothing. But to me what I really like is Rembrandt’s honesty he paints his deep set eyes , his uneven complexion and the flabby loose folds of skin on his cheeks and his jowls.

Post-impressionist artist Dutch born Vincent Van Gogh ( 1853-1890) painted over 30 self Portraits between 1886-1889 during a period when his unstable mental status caused him to work in a fervour but  alsopary because  He  did not have his own income ( he relied on the financial support of his brother) he could not afford to pay for the use of a model so had to paint his own portrait . “But since then I’ve had no chance of getting models ……… Then I would hope to be able to show that I  am after something other than little green landscapes of flowers ….”

Each of these self portraits depict Van gogh’s mental and physical decline. He depicts his striking red hair, his haunted eyes and the later ones show his shaven head, bandaged ear and his emaciated  strunken cheeks. Van Gogh’s self portraits are intense, sad , beautiful and emotive. I like his use of vigorous swirly brushstrokes and his use of thick paint and complimentary colours. I also like the one he always paints a very decorative background influenced by Japanese print making. I think all of these self portraits are powerful and moving as  they chronicle a troubled genius.


I then looked at contemporary artists and their interpretations of self portraits.

Martin Robert Reed has a fascinating approach to how he captures his likeness or image in self portraits- using charcoal on paper Reed includes various viewpoints and the movement of facial features using experimental marks with the intention of making a visual connection between himself , the painting and the viewer. But what most excites me about his work Is that Many of Reed’s self portraits are intentionally left  unfinished including a series entitled “unfinished self” Reed says that the “unfinished self” is not a physical likeness. I find this idea really interesting and fascinating as though the artist is perhaps commenting on the unfinished status of his life? Or maybe could it be a comment on his artistic development? Certainly there is a lot of unanswered questions in Reed’s art. I personally like art that I have to think about, that challenges my visual perception. I also think Reed’s work is beautiful, it has a lively intensity and it is very emotive.

Alay Raich  an UK based artist , is a graduate of Riga art college. Raich  uses bright intense colours to build up structure using marker pens. His self portrait depicts a close up of his head with a brief glimpse of his neck. Using the marker pens he seems to build up the layers of vibrant and rich colours using fine hatching and lines to define the dimensions of the face which shows his skill at handing such a difficult and uncompromising medium. I  also feel that he may be influenced by expressionist art? Raich’s self portrait looks out from the picture plane with a neutral almost vacant expression, his eyes seems small and guarded – I like this as again the viewer is left with unanswered puzzles and questions . Raich has this to say about his work ” my object is human psyche –  way it sees the world , understand, perceives an feel” I also like the raw intensity of Reed’s drawing the way he invites the viewer to look at his image  I think this quote does almost imply that Raich is slightly inspired by expressionism. I am interested to know how long Raich spend on his self portrait.

Frank Auerbach ( b.1931 in Germany) but a British resident since 1939 is an interesting artist who is still actively working today even though he is in his 80’s. I particularly like his  strong and powerful self portraits – Unlike  Martin Robert Reed’s intentionally unfinished portraits Auerbach has a different working process which I Recently learnt about during a study view to the British museum drawing room . Auerbach’s method is to work on one drawing over an extended time period – often several years. Re-working and changing his work even erasing an entire drawing. Which also interests me  is despite Auerbach’s long career  he has only produced around 5 self portraits. In each of these self portraits Auerbach works into the paper in his customary style. The effect is almost dazzling in the intensity of the lines and tones. The structure of the head is constructed with a focus on angles – the use of the medium often charcoal is exquistive , beautifully executed. The effect is very structural. I personally feel that Auerbach’s drawings are underrated I  much prefer them to his paintings.

When doing this research project I was interested to see and compare the different methods that artists use to capture their own face and images and I was interested to Learn about some of their ideas and thoughts. It was also encouraging to see that despite the raise of the smart phone selfie as a practice today the  self portrait  is still and very popular and valid genre for the contemporary artist working today.











i am also indebted to Sarah Jaffray at the British library who explained Frank Auerbach ‘s  working methods and processes which was both interesting and inspiring.

like the previous research point I have not recorded some of the contemporary artists birth dates and again this is because I couldn’t find the information.





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