Jul 312013

Danien Hirst Jonathan Yeo New portrait of Damien Hirst to go on display in LondonA major new painted por­trait of con­tem­por­ary artist Damien Hirst will fea­ture in a dis­play of work by Jonathan Yeo at the National Por­trait Gal­lery in September.

Jonathan Yeo Por­traits (11 Septem­ber 2013 – 5 Janu­ary 2014) will fea­ture sev­eral new and pre­vi­ously unseen art­works, includ­ing the strik­ing, six-foot-high oil-on-canvas por­trait of Damien Hirst. The por­trait paint­ing, in which Hirst dom­in­ates the can­vas, shows the artist sit­ting in a chair, dressed in a chem­ical dry suit and hold­ing a mask: an out­fit chosen to reflect the tools of his trade. Yeo and Hirst worked together when dis­cuss­ing the com­pos­i­tion of the por­trait, and Hirst’s com­mand­ing pose was chosen as an ironic reflec­tion upon his per­ceived pos­i­tion within today’s art world.

Yeo says,

Essen­tially it is a por­trait by an artist of another artist known for doing com­pletely dif­fer­ent work: Damien is prob­ably best known for his avant-garde sculp­tures and I, for my por­traits. People assume we have com­pletely con­trary pos­i­tions – of tra­di­tion and mod­ern­ity, paint­ing and the phys­ical – how­ever, artists are always inter­ested in other artists, and how and what they achieve in their work. Damien, and his undeni­able ongo­ing impact on the art world, is end­lessly fascinating.

I wanted to ref­er­ence ele­ments of both who Damien is and what he has done. The mask in his hand helps cre­ate an ambi­gu­ity, sug­gest­ing pos­sible mil­it­ary con­nota­tions, that he might be diving or con­front­ing a riot. Even when we real­ise it’s a chem­ical dry suit, which he uses to make his form­al­de­hyde works, it’s not entirely clear if he is mak­ing some­thing or whether he is being pickled in one of his own tanks. This power bal­ance is some­thing of which we were both con­scious through the cre­ation of the portrait.

The pose was inten­ded to reflect iron­ic­ally his sup­posed status as dark over­lord of the Con­tem­por­ary Art scene and hope­fully some observ­ers will be reminded of Velasquez’s and Bacon’s Popes. Ulti­mately his faint smirk is the giveaway, both that he was a know­ing col­lab­or­ator in the choice of com­pos­i­tion, and that his mis­chiev­ous sense of humour is never far from any­thing he does.

While Hirst says of Yeo,

Like Turner strap­ping him­self to the ship’s mast in order to cre­ate a true like­ness of a storm, Yeo time and time again achieves what should be impossible: cre­at­ing a true pic­ture, an image or a glimpse, of people we think we know and of those we’ve never met.


Jonathan Yeo Por­traits, National Por­trait Gal­lery, Lon­don, 11 Septem­ber 2013 — 5 Janu­ary 2014. Admis­sion free.

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