Portraiture has been an essential element of Western European and Mediterranean Art for three thousand years. Accurate, accommodating and realistic portrayals of Kings and Queens, military and political leaders, great beauties and beloved friends, and various Gods too, have defined the aesthetic values and social structures of great civilisations from Ancient Egypt, through Ancient Greece and Rome, the Italian High Renaissance, through Rembrandt, the Impressionists and through to the present day. No political history or social history can be written without recourse to the portraiture of the times. A portrait is driven not just by the desire of the subject to be painted or sculpted, but also by the needs of artists to represent the people around them in a cogent and transformative way.
In the age of photography, ubiquitous social media, advertising and the fleeting image, the deification of perfection, portraiture, proper portraiture, performs a vital role in holding civilising values to account.
These days I set my palette any old how,
No light to dark, no warm to cold or crass rainbow
Here’s Titanium White for those crescent moons beneath your breasts;
In more full bodied times drinking Claret on a Bordeaux beach
You laughingly went topless, but lay face down
To hide your blush
That night I dined on sand and peach.
I have Permanent Alizarin Crimson and Hansa Yellow Light
For those temporary scars your accommodating skin
Takes from pants and skirts, tight restricting things.
The world’s sharp points,
And once or twice the intaglio of my palmprint on your naked arse.
With Apothecarial care I could blend Quinacridone,
Dioxazine and Manganese to paint those blotches,
Spots and bumps that constellate your flesh;
A Supernova melanoma.
Can we make a picture by joining up our dots?
And then in a dried up, curled up, tube
There’s Rose Madder for your tear stained eyes.
Did I make you weep, better to paint,
With vain dismissive strokes,
My own reflection and to gauge my size?
When we both were young we used virgin, monosyllabic colours.
I wore that Blue suit, Red silk shirt and green tie.
God was I hot. You called me cool.
But now we dress in sunset shades,
Appeasement Brown, Compromise Pink, a pastel chromological lie
Let me die first, but bury me redly, paint
My headstone orange, sing yellow songs of praise;
Let me go armed with young, primary
And unconsecrated colours
Into that endless, sightless peace.