Sunday, 17 July 2011


Oil on Mylar on panel 102 x 737 mm
BP Portrait  Award 2011, National Portrait Gallery, until September 18

Matthew Schofield is a Toronto-based Canadian born artist. The text accompanying the picture runs: ‘This portrait of the artist’s father is painted over six panels representing the decades of his life. Five of the panels show portraits taken from vintage photographs and the final panel is a portrait painted from life. The aim was to try and present a well-rounded portrayal of the sitter’.

I was attracted to this portrait partly because it reminds me of a technique of medieval narrative painting, where, for example, the story of the Good Samaritan starts on the left with the traveller setting out and as you read the canvas from left to right, the story progresses incident by incident: the violent attack, the passers-by, and finally on the far right, the rescue. Schofield is a founding member of a group of artists investigating the role of narrative painting.

I like the way Schofield focuses on the inconsequential and the overlooked when constructing a story. I warm to a man who admits to collecting and hoarding ‘incidental random moments’, then digging through and sorting   ‘boxes and piles of hundreds of moments of suspended animation’. Only then does he begin to shape an outcome by painting versions of the original photographs. 

Schofield called one of his shows Making the Most of Snap Decisions.‘ He's on to somethng important. What do we do with our photographic memoirs, especially those of our family?

'All families are creepy in a way’ said the photographer Diane Arbus. In 2004 the critic and curator Susan Bright  led a course at Tate Modern called Family Matters. We looked at the way image-makers at different times and places have had changing ideas as to how to depict the family. In between sessions we developed our own projects. What I remember most clearly is a concertina-like photographic display of empty pairs of shoes worn by family members over one Christmas holiday, from a baby’s slippers to hiking boots. Someone else used photographs of DNA samples...It's a rich field to be mined. 

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