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The Human Face - the New Welsh Review Blog

BLOG Laura Owen

NWR Issue 110

The Human Face

The Human Face exhibition is formed from the private collection of Chris Ingram and includes a diverse range of portraits and sculptures, each depicting a unique take on portraiture. The private collection captures the human face in various media, such as pencil, charcoal, watercolours and oil.

Chris Ingram is a very wealthy businessman who in 2002 started his vast, and constantly evolving, art collection of paintings, drawing and sculptures from the twentieth century, an era when the camera had properly displaced traditional portraiture across media. For over a decade he has worked to build one of the most distinguished collections of British modern art in the world, and it is still growing.

Most of the 650 pieces in the Ingram collection can be viewed at the Lightbox Gallery, Woking. It has a particular emphasis on the postwar period, which led to the development of innovative portraits. 400 of those 650 pieces are by major British artists. The Lightbox rotates them and regularly loans out exhibits to galleries, both national and abroad.

During the twentieth century, boundaries widened and artists began to explore the ‘everyday’ person. This granted portraiture a new lease of life. Colour, shape and style changed, and exuberant abstract sketches and paintings of the working class broke the mould, such as the expressive and emotional ‘Young Billy’ by the Stuckist figurative movement artist Billy Childish (born Steven John Hamper).

Also displayed is the work of well-known artist Jacob Epstein. His bronze sculptures of faces were produced from rough surfaces but include expressive facial details. ‘Italian Peasant Woman’, 1907, is Epstein’s first bronze sculpture and his first portrait. Epstein also has a second piece on show named ‘Second Portrait of Deirdre’. It is one of three sculptures that he produced portraying his housekeeper between 1941 and 1942.

John Bellany painted ‘A Piece of Bread’ in 1966. Produced with oil on board, it depicts an older woman eating a slice of bread. Although apparently simple in subject, the expression and tone of the painting are anything but. The woman is set on a black background with a strip of light down one side. Her body – dressed in black – blends seamlessly into this background. Her pose is so natural that she does not appear to be posing. Instead, it feels as though she is going about her everyday activities. In this, Bellany has captured a brief moment of her life, lending the painting a very different tone from the more formal portraits that were painted centuries before.

The Human Face grants viewers the opportunity to appreciate in one room a wide range of highly sort-after pieces, particularly Epstein’s charming faces. It is a must-see exhibition of modern British portraiture that would normally only be available for public viewing near London, so don’t miss it in mid Wales.

Laura Owen is an MA student of Creative Writing at Aberystwyth University.

The Human Face exhibition is at Aberystwyth Arts Centre until 12 March

Image courtesy of Aberystwyth Arts Centre, The Lightbox Woking & the Ingram Collection


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