26/05/14 - Jonathan Yeo at the Lowry

If you've been reading my blog for a little while, you'll know that I occasionally dip my toes into the art world.  I just love the experience of wandering between paintings, trying to convince myself and those around me that I actually know what I'm talking about...it's something that I wish I did more of because every time I do, I come away feeling invigorated and inspired.  Last Thursday evening was no different.  My friend Jenny and I attended the opening of an exhibition of Jonathan Yeo's portraits at the Lowry in Salford.  For anyone who doesn't know, Jonathon Yeo is one of Britain's leading portrait artists and is best known for his renderings of very familiar faces which include actors and politicians.  This particular exhibition, which is on tour from the National Portrait Gallery, features some of his most famous subjects - from Kevin Spacey in the role of Richard III to Tony Blair, with a new portrait of the incredible actress Maxine Peake.

After a stroll around the exhibition and actually managing to intelligently discuss the contrasting styles in the portraits, we gathered to hear Jonathan Yeo discussing his work with Tim Marlow and special guest, actor Charlie Condou.  The moment they started speaking, I instantly regretted not bringing a notebook - I normally carry one everywhere but we went to the exhibition straight from work and everything was just that bit too hectic for me to remember something so basic.  In the hour long conversation, they covered so much ground including the experience of painting versus being the subject of a portrait, the nature of 'celebrity', a fascinating exploration of Yeo's political artwork, and how the development of technology and the rise of the selfie has changed the way we view portraiture.  It was so inspiring to watch these three incredibly articulate men giving a real insight into the artistic process as well as discussing its connection to our wider society, and there were numerous brilliants comments that I wish I'd had the common sense to write down verbatim so that I could put them in here. 

After the talk, we were lucky enough to grab a moment with Charlie Condou for a brief chat.  If it hadn't been for his Twitter, we wouldn't have known the event was even happening and it would have been such a shame to miss out on such a fantastic evening.  Charlie was utterly lovely, so friendly and accommodating, and even agreed to a quick photo before he had to dash off.  Unfortunately, Jonathan Yeo was also in a hurry so we weren't able to speak to him at all which was a shame as I would've loved an opportunity to pick his brain a little further!

Excuse the slightly low quality image...good old phone cameras!
Thanks to Jenny for using her phone to take this photo,
as mine would've turned out much worse.
Jenny and I had an incredible evening, and were particularly amazed by the fact that we were actually able to coherently discuss the art in front of us with some level of confidence.  We both admitted that occasionally we feel like we don't 'get' art and are therefore nowhere near qualified to formulate opinions on it, which I think is a real shame.  I particularly came away with my mind filled with questions about what sitting for a portrait might bring out in me.  There was a section of the discussion where the process of portrait painting was discussed and what really struck me was the element of exploration, stripping away the front that people naturally present to the world and digging down into the deeper layers of humanity that we - intentionally or otherwise - hide.  I'd be absolutely fascinated to see what layers of myself would be stripped back in that process and whether a portrait of me would look anything like how I like to imagine myself.  One of the most notable things about the development of recent technology is that we all have instantaneous access to images of ourselves and the ability to pick the most flattering few to share with everyone else.  I cringe to think of the number of selfies I take on my phone before I have one that I deem acceptable for public consumption.  The idea of a portrait seems so much more permanent and that alone instills it with some kind of importance that has been otherwise detracted from the process of viewing images of ourselves.  On top of that, I personally find any kind of art incredibly impressive because it's something I just have absolutely zero skill in!  

If you're in the Manchester area or are willing to travel to see some incredible art, I highly recommend that you do so.  The exhibition is open until 29th June and you can find more information about it here.  The Lowry is a fantastic facility, so it's worth a visit anyway!

Do you feel that you understand art enough to appreciate it fully?  And does that affect the way that you view it?  Let me know in the comments!

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