Looking at artists who work on the face in different ways is a fascinating topic and could lead you on a never-ending trail of research so I’m just going to discuss a few as follows.
Little’s work epitomises a labour of love, drawing in coloured pencils takes time and dedication, requiring inordinate amounts of patience. If you look closely his drawings are made up of thousands of fine precise lines. This technique, together with the muted colours suggest a dreaminess, with the softness giving a slight out of focus vibe. This diffuse light gives it a vintage quality, whilst it also seems reminiscent of an Old Master. Looking up close, it‘s like looking at grainy photos which reinforces this concept of being from another era, perhaps with a slight air of nostalgia.
His elegant women could step right out of an interiors magazine, gracefully posing as if for a photoshoot. He takes his inspiration from fashion magazines from the 80s, when women were beautiful and powerful, they are so well composed they could be stills from a movie.
It is an interesting creative perspective to use magazine images, whether commercially based or fashion oriented, to inspire a portrait or representation of women. These women don’t look dated or unfashionable, there is a timelessness about them. They are nothing like their glossy originals, there is more detail, softer light, and many textures to pique the viewer’s interest.
His additions also give the models a little something extra, whether it is pathos or a thoughtfulness, even a little mystery, it transforms them from the two dimensional clothes horse to something elevated. He has taken a superficial construct and turned into something else, giving it and the subject matter more meaning.
There is an air of familiarity about Little’s work, perhaps it is the poses, instantly recognisable because we see them everyday in magazines and on screen, whilst we usually flick carelessly through a magazine these women catch our attention. The setting is more detailed and less sterile than the typical photoshoot scene, the women are still glamorous and well dressed but perhaps there is more of a hint of personality in them.
Personally I like the ones where there is a window in the background, see Untitled (Office) 2013, I like the idea of something beyond. What lies behind is unknown and suggests there is more to these ladies than the superficial.
I can’t decide if there is a nostalgia here for a time gone by, when life was simpler, or whether it is a love letter to women. Whatever it is they are rather nice to look at.
At first glance her works appear to be painted by a love-struck sixth-former as there is an evident romantic element to Peyton’s work. She is best known for her stylised paintings of people, friends and celebrities. Peyton has admitted to being inspired by photography, from analogue cameras, and Polaroids with their slight out of focus tendency, softly blurriness and lack of detail and, in particular by the work of Robert Mapplethorpe.
Her people are represented in blocky strokes, patchy lines and an almost primitive style. Surprisingly small, her works often measuring only 11 inches in height. There is an evident attraction to the subject matter, something about them is appealing to the artist and I don’t think it is their celebrity. Unless she is trying to look behind the popularity and fame to see what else lies there.
Peyton believes that faces contain their time, their individuality is in the expressions. I think she is trying to, not only, capture personality but something of the time they live in. Her first exhibition was held in a room in the Chelsea Hotel, New York and consisted of representations of historical figures like Napoleon, people who made an impact.
Although her subjects are famous, they are often painted in an androgynous manner, yet are Expressionist in style with bright colours and splashes and drips. You could imagine them as album covers.
In her work she captures a likeness of the sitter but more than that, she captures something of their humanity, their personality, especially in the recent painting of Angela Merkel, She has an emotional connection with the object of her drawings and this comes through. In the Telegraph interview with Laura Buck, she claims “I really love the people I paint. I believe in them, I’m happy they are in the world. I’m interested in people who are dealing with their feelings through art, or people who defined their moment in history.”
Another artist who works with faces is Ron Mueck, his extraordinary over sized faces and figures are extremely lifelike or hyperrealistic but their expressions offer a certain discomfort to the viewer perhaps because of the scale of them.
The intricate detail whilst familiar may be too familiar to be viewed at such an extreme close-up. We encounter these people in private moments of sleeping, or sitting naked or lying in bed, see In Bed.
Seeing his work on such a large scale seems to induce an awe-struck reaction from observers, especially in the case of his Mother and Child, where a slimy newborn lies on its stunned mother’s stomach. His works managed to encapsulate life to a terrifying degree which creates an impact on the viewer. As such there is no need to explain his work and because of this he has had great success.
His work is personal and emotionally charged yet anyone can connect to the theme of his works. They seem exaggerated and overly big yet they refuse to be out of place. No matter the size of his work, they are powerfully intimate.
They must be like seeing real life characters from a movie, so very familiar but almost freakishly oversized. Some critics have suggested what he has captured is more than the surface likeness , it is the very soul, that extra je ne sais quoi, that can’t be reached but we feel like we recognise it when we see it. For some this adds a spiritual dimension
I’m interested in how using line or even scribbles can make up the structure of a face so the Giacometti drawings are quite appealing. Giacometti was a sculptor, painter and printmaker and I find this combination intriguing, he had a different view because of his different image making techniques. There’s a desire there to understand underlying structure and attempting to represent that, which is something that connects with me too. I do feel limited sometimes when working with pencil and paper and would like to experiment with print and sculpture in the future.
Seemingly Giacometti had a lifelong mission to “rendre ma vision” or represent his vision or perception. He wanted to get past the exterior representation and get to the interior. He drew the people closest to him, his wife, family and friends. His portraits are often viewed full frontal, face directly looking out, encased within a vigorous and energetic style of intense lines. From all of these various lines the real sense of the person emerges from the many layers, managing to convey a sense of character. His lines are searching for the outline, the face, it’s something I try to do myself, I don’t use erasers very often, I prefer to let the eyes and the fingers find the lines.
His work is immediately recognisable especially his incredibly thin sculptures of people, they are very fragile creations. His work has an existential bent, claiming that even if his sitters were well known to him, once they sit for him they became strangers, and yet I think in making his work he is creating a representation? There is a connection between looking and creating.
People often describe his work as emerging, best seen from front on, there’s a small window of view that allows you to see the work completely, but walk too far and you miss it. To me this means that we can never totally see another person as a whole, we just get glimpses of them and perhaps sometimes we just see an essence. The sculptures appear to change as you look at them due to their proportions and intensity of their expressions, depending on how you look at them they are both distant and close, when you see them right. It is intriguing that John Paul Sartre called his work half way between being and nothingness.
It was the second world war that changed Giacometti’s works, after the Holocaust, his slenderising began, his sculptures showed the thinnest, most fragile people, those survivors who had suffered and yet were still standing. Even in their slenderness, he conveys their humanity.
He depicted men and women differently, his men walk or point but his women don’t, they are static. When asked why he said that he always found women to be distant.
He made thousands of art works, being prolific in the pursuit of his vision, working on the same ideas over and over. He was perhaps trying to understand his own vision but made new versions of the same pieces and so looked at ways in which to capture human form.
These four artists, although very different in ways, have the ability to show emotion, making a connection with people and astounding with their skill.
Skye Sherwin, 26th November 2010, Artist of the Week: Graham Little, The Guardian
Charlie Fox, April 2015, Graham Little, Frieze
Johnny Magdaleno, 12 January 2015, Contemporary Women in the Style of the Italian Renaissance, The New York Times Style Magazine
Kaitlyn Clarke, 26 January 2015, Little’s Modern Renaissance Women, Made in Shoreditch
Eliza Williams, Graham Little: Surface Beauty, Flash Art Online
Ken Johnson, 18 August 2006, Beautiful People Caught in Passivity by Peyton and Warhol, New York Time
Karen Rosenberg, 11 July 2008, Elizabeth Peyton’s Social Network, Traced in her Photographs, New York Times
8 April 2009, Artist of the Week 36: Elizabeth Peyton, The Guardian
Louisa Buck, January 22, 2016, “Elizabeth Peyton: paintings about love,” The Telegraph
Alan Taylor, 9 October 2013, The Hyperrealistic Sculptures of Ron Mueck, The Atlantic
Sean O’Hagan, 6 August 2006, Ron Mueck: From Muppets to Motherhood, The Guardian
Grace Glueck, 10 November 2006, New York Times, Giant Baby, Dead Dad and Others
Alex Finkelstein, 4 June 2009, The Brooklyn Rail, Alberto Giacometti: Drawings
Laura Cumming, 23 March 2008, The Human Race, Handled with Care, The Guardian
Lara Friegel, 21 April 2017, On the Edge of Madness: the Terrors and Genius of Alberto Giacometti, The Guardian