|The News Line Saturday January
5 2013 PAGE 7
AMY WINEHOUSE PORTRAIT ON DISPLAY
BY A GUEST REVIEWER
National Portrait Gallery
St Martin's Place London WC2H 0HE
on permanent display
THE National Portrait Gallery, London, is proud to be displaying a portrait painting of the late Amy Winehouse, that it acquired late last year.
The painting, which was made shortly after the singer's death in July 2011, was bought by the Gallery, with support from the Art Fund, the national fundraising charity for art.
Painted by the internationally renowned artist Marlene Dumas, Amy-Blue is a close-cropped oil-on-canvas head study, scarcely larger than a sheet of A4 paper.
Using a striking palette of mainly blue and black with hints of pink and white, the artist has chosen to focus tightly on the singer's head with her eyes looking downwards and her mouth slightly open.
The viewer is drawn to the singer's distinctive eyes and eye-liner at the top of the jewel-like portrait, while the slight decline in the angle of her face offers a glimpse of her long black hair tumbling down her cheek.
By simplifying the singer's characteristic features in this way, Dumas has created an icon as well as a strong likeness.
The Amsterdam-based South African artist recalls being moved upon hearing of Winehouse's death and afterwards searching through images of the singer on the internet.
Like many of Dumas's works, the portrait is commemorative, but it also presents a restoration of the subject in paint.
Dumas says that Winehouse was a great musician, likening the singer's description of her being 'given' a voice to the way the artist feels about her own ability to draw.
'Dumas's liquid handling of paint carries tremendous emotive power,' says Sarah Howgate, Contemporary Curator at the National Portrait Gallery.
'Detail bleeds into and out of her work, directing and dispersing the gaze of the viewer. The rich, translucent blues of this portrait allude to Amy Winehouse's musical influences as much as to the melancholy details of her career.'
While this is the first painted portrait of Amy Winehouse to be acquired by the Gallery, the singer is represented in its Photographs Collection in portraits by Mischa Richter and Venetia Dearden.
Amy Winehouse (1983- 2011) was born in North London and trained at the Sylvia Young Theatre School. Her exceptional voice brought her critical acclaim, winning the singer five Grammys and a Brit award for best female artist.
Her distinctive voice and talent for song-writing made her enormously popular with audiences internationally. Her rebellious nature and tumultuous private life, in common with predecessors such as Billie Holiday, made her a subject of media fascination.
Since her death, her family has set up the Amy Winehouse Foundation, raising hundreds of thousands of pounds in her name to help disadvantaged young people, particularly those struggling with issues around drug and alcohol misuse.
Marlene Dumas has described her work over the last 30 years as an account of our time through the representation of people. Working primarily from photographic sources, her subjects are often portrayed at close-crop. This device introduces an element of abstraction, replacing narrative concerns with larger socio-political ideas.
Also on display at the National Portrait Gallery, London, until 21 July 2013 in Rooms 41 and 41a is a free display of works by British artist Humphrey Ocean.
The display contains 40 works painted in gouache on paper comprising colourful portraits of visitors to his south London studio, produced since 2006. The sitters include family members and friends.
Humphrey Ocean RA has a long association with the National Portrait Gallery, which began in 1982 when he won the Gallery's annual Portrait Prize with the painting Lord Volvo and his Estate.
Ocean has undertaken several commissions for the Gallery including portraits of Paul McCartney (1982), the poet Philip Larkin (1984) and Tony Benn (1996).
The immediacy of the gouache medium allows Ocean to capture quickly his sitters in simple forms, yet with striking presence.
The majority of portraits on display show the sitter seated, yet each has a real sense of vitality and vibrancy that extends beyond the stillness of the pose.
Although the sitters have shared the experience, the unique quality of each portrait is a reflection of the way the artist and sitter responded to each other during the short period of the sitting.
Ocean says of this body of work: 'You could say portraying a person is the trickiest subject because we know too much. In real life a simple thing like catching someone's eye can change our lives in a second.
'Stretching this moment out for just as long as it takes to set it down and make a painting is what I have been doing with people I know'.
The display is complemented by a publication entitled Humphrey Ocean: A handbook of modern life.
Looking ahead, the National Portrait Gallery's spring 2013 exhibition of iconic American Indian portraits by the American artist George Catlin (1796-1872) will open on 7th March 2013.
The exhibition, George Catlin: American Indian Portraits, will include major loans from the Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington.
Catlin was an artist, writer and showman who documented Native American peoples and their cultures to serve as a record of what he believed to be a passing way of life.
What he created is regarded as one of the most important records of indigenous peoples ever made. Catlin was not the only artist to embark on such a project in the nineteenth century, but his record is the most extensive still in existence.