Michael Tilley
Iconic Self-portrait, 2009

Oil on board

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Portraits: What you lookin' at?

At first glance this portrait seems unfinished and it is unclear whether or not it was the artists’ intention to leave the rest of the work to the viewer’s imagination. Either way, the face that stares out of the painting is enough to confront the viewer and gives an authoritative impression of sitter and artist. I think this work initially appealed to me because it reminded me of some of the Freud sketches and portraits I have recently seen; some of Freud’s portraits are similarly unfinished and as a result expose the way that the painter went about constructing his masterpieces. I love the sense that both this work and Freud’s work give an even deeper understanding of the artist than a completed self-portrait might have because they show the artists’ methods of working, the process of visualisation, and the organic emergence of forms as they are created. However, Michael’s piece also appealed to me in its own right in the way that it interacts with the viewer. The piece is confrontational, with the eye contact of the sitter drawing the viewer into the frame whilst retaining a sense of authority. The severity of the expression is heightened by the bold brushstrokes, block shading of the furrowed brow and the contrast of the lighter base colour around the periphery of the head. I think the fact that the piece seems unfinished makes it even more alluring and mysterious; the artist draws the viewer in by denying them an initial sense of completion.

Entry written by Claudia Warren, History of Art Placement