Artists pursue portrait fascination

Lisa DeVries, Kirstie Hogg, and Jane Duncan with self-portraits from Us, at the Refinery ArtSpace.

Lisa DeVries, Kirstie Hogg, and Jane Duncan with self-portraits from Us, at the Refinery ArtSpace.

Painting a portrait can be both a confronting and liberating experience as three artists recently found out, Judith Ritchie reports.

When painting a portrait, the artist on the one hand wants to convey something of the reality of the subject, while also delivering a pleasing image. They are challenged to capture their subject in a naturalistic way, without the subject looking nervous or rigid in pose.

Curator Catharine Salmon with work from TLC at the Refinery ArtSpace.

Curator Catharine Salmon with work from TLC at the Refinery ArtSpace.

Vanity comes into play. The subject may have a preconceived idea of themselves that is rather more idealistic than realistic. 

For these reasons, portrait painting is a challenging genre, requiring a rugged honesty combined with a refined eye for telling a story about the subject, revealing something of their inner persona.

With this in mind three friends took up the challenge to paint portraits of each other and themselves. 

Us, an exhibition at the Refinery ArtSpace, shares portraits and gestural figure drawings by Jane Duncan, Kirstie Hogg and Lisa DeVries. 

It started a year ago when they all attended the Adam Portrait Awards in Wellington, in which Duncan was a finalist. They decided then to create their own portrait show and it went from there.

What they hadn't expected was a year of personal turmoil for each of them, from a marriage separation and a spouse diagnosed with cancer to a death in the family. They agree that these events have brought strength to their work and a closeness as friends and artists.

"It was a big year for each of us, but also amazing to work on this together during that time," DeVries says.

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The most challenging and liberating works were the large 1.8 metre x 900cm nude portraits that each painted of themselves.

Lost in the Woods with two Wolves, by Duncan shows her leaning forward, hands on her chest, emerging from a forest with wolves at her ankles.

"Now that the portraits are hung up, it's not really about the nudity that impacted on me," Duncan says. "It's the rawness of the work, its about telling a story."

Reaching by DeVries, painted in bright gestural strokes, is depicted from above showing her with one arm reaching toward the viewer. 

"There is an element of vanity, you still think about the pose, but I wanted it to be true to my body as well," DeVries says.

Alongside these sits A Fair Complexion by Hogg, showing her posing in front of a dresser with a mirror, painted in soft skin tones.

They have also painted portraits of each other, agreeing that there was a strong element of trust involved. 

"It is always interesting to see yourself as others see you; it can be a challenging but enriching experience," DeVries says. "It's about our acceptance of each other as well, no one has been offended." 

DeVries and Duncan are also showing a series of gestural figure studies, for which Hogg was the model.

"I never thought I'd do that, modelling for life drawing, never ever, but when I did, I wasn't even worried," Hogg says."It's an age thing too, years ago I'd never have done this, but now, its okey, and having support from each other helped."

Next door TLC is showing the work of seven artists, curated by NMIT lecturer, Catharine Salmon.

The artists are linked by long-term illnesses or pain, from depression and arthritis to recovering from a brain injury. The works reveal how, despite the effects and challenges of illness, and the side effects of medication, the artists continue to create. 

Chadderton, Clayton, Craw, Edwin, Lucas, Newport and Williams: artists are identified by surname only, denoting the non-gender specific nature of illness, except endometriosis.

"TLC reflects their creativity while acknowledging in some way, in the pieces they make or through the accompanying words, their significant although very different health challenges," Salmon says. "In effect, the work is the conversation between the artefact(s) and these texts."

Us, Jane Duncan, Kirstie Hogg and Lisa DeVries, to June 3. TLC, curated by Catharine Salmon, to May 27, the Refinery ArtSpace, 3 Halifax St, Nelson.



 - Nelson


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