30 November 2022

Contemporary artists turn conventional notion of portraiture on its head at NPG

| Dione David
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Four ceramic sculptures by artist Vipoo Srivilasa

Four works from Happy Australian (2022) by Vipoo Srivilasa in ceramic, glaze and gold lustre. Photo: NPG.

What happens when the “hot young things” of the art world are commissioned to take on a genre often seen as traditional and conservative?

That’s what the National Portrait Gallery invites you to find out at its latest exhibition Portrait23: Identity.

The Gallery challenged 23 Australian contemporary artists and collectives from every state and territory to create portraits without constraints or boundaries.

The result is a surprising collection of new works across a range of mediums including painting, drawing, photography, street art, suspended textiles, performance, ceramics, bronze and soft sculpture.

The works interrogate expected notions of the conventional genre by exploring diverse perspectives around a theme inherent to portraiture – identity.

READ ALSO National Portrait Gallery exhibition sets the record straight on portraiture

National Portrait Gallery Director of Collection and Exhibitions Sandra Bruce said the artists were not selected for portraiture experience.

In fact, each selected artist was well known and influential in their own right, but many would not consider themselves portraitists.

“We wanted to know what would happen if we reached out to these artists and asked them to consider, if they bounced off their style to create a portrait around this broad theme, what would that look like?” she said.

“One uplifting and exciting take on it came from Vipoo Srivilasa, one of the artists in this cohort who would definitely not consider himself a portrait artist and who was, in fact, surprised when we approached him.

“Then he embraced it and decided to go down the road of reaching out to his following via social media. He told them ‘I want to create a series of portraits of people, so bring me your ideas and I’ll pick 10’.

“His aim was to bring positivity and joy to how people are expressing themselves. The outcome is a lovely suite of 10 beautiful, cute, quirky ceramic sculptures in his style, which bring a smile to your face. And in a way he has created a collective portrait of Australians by collaborating with his following.”

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Portrait23: Identity is accompanied by a publication featuring nine commissioned pieces of writing from leading Australian authors reflecting broadly and personally on the notion of identity, as well as a program of performances, lectures and events.

The publication also includes conversations between the curators and the artists on their processes and practices.

Ms Bruce said for many, the exhibition would reveal the true nature of a genre that is often seen as boxed into one format throughout time – a literal visual likeness of a person.

“In reality, portraiture as a genre is as susceptible to the influences of what’s going on in the art world as any other genre,” she said.

“What I find exciting about this exhibition is that it contextualises the genre of portraiture within how art history evolves.

“Remember, portraiture is just as much about the creative expression of the artist as the subject. A lot of these artists were already having interesting conversations around their sense of self, personhood and what it means to be a human in the world today.

“It will be fascinating to see how people’s identities are personified because of how these artists choose to create their art.”

Portrait23: Identity is a free exhibition to be held at the National Portrait Gallery from 10 March to 18 June. The Gallery is open from 10 am to 5 pm daily except for Christmas. For more information including a complete list of featured artists and collectives, visit the website.

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