Last Monday evening saw the opening night of the student-run Norman Rea Gallery’s newest exhibition, ‘Portraits’ by Colchester artist Harvey Taylor. In the second week of summer term, this exhibition of large-scale oil paintings is the first of four exhibitions for the final term of the year and is unique in its content of realist style portraits. Curator of the exhibition and director of the Norman Rea Gallery, Mayssa Kachicho explains that she felt it was important to show this subject matter at some point in the line-up of wide ranging artistic styles and themes that they show throughout the academic year. Kachicho came across the artist’s work herself when researching a list of Top 50 British artists of the moment online and contacted the artist immediately with the interest to show his work at York University’s campus. She is personally a fan of oil painting and felt the medium should be represented in the gallery’s catalogue of temporary exhibitions.
The artist, Harvey Taylor, has been working in oil paints since his fine art degree at Winchester School of Art, although he admits that working in a realist manner is something he has only explored in recent years. He paints intimate studies of family member’s faces, magnifying them on a large scale to explore every crease, shadow and expression line in incredible detail. Standing in front of his paintings feels similar to looking through a family photo album but combined with the sense of discovering a new face for the first time. You know that these faces were painted with an affectionate eye, particularly the portraits of sleeping family members, but the unfamiliarity of them creates an uneasy tension between viewer and subject. We have never had the opportunity to meet the person in the portrait, yet we are confronted with an exaggerated view of every facial feature and detail. When asked about his working method, Taylor states that he paints from a scaled-up photograph rather than a life study. This, he explains, allows him to work on a small section of the painting at one time and even turn the painting upside down or at an angle to create an abstract impression in the area he focuses on. This gives the painting an unexpected abstract quality that can be found when studying particular spaces in the portraits, such as a patch of shadow, hair or clothing.
The selection of paintings on show include a series of sleeping sitters, a self-portrait and a range of ages from young children to an elderly mother. The curator of the exhibition has coupled these paintings with a slideshow of photographs taken of students across campus. The flickering images of face after face on the projection screen alongside the large intimate portraits demonstrate both the diversity of the human face and the power of the staged portrait. It was definitely a worthwhile experience visiting this exhibition as it revisits a traditional subject matter in painting but does so in an intriguing, contemporary manner.
The exhibition is free and open to students and the visiting public on weekdays from 30th April - 15th May ‘13.
Visit The Norman Rea Gallery’s website or facebook for more information, photos and news about the exhibition, upcoming shows and the gallery in general.
Find out more about Harvey Taylor and his artworks by visiting his website