Monday, 1 July 2013


Philip Glass 2012 Oil on polyester on board
1730 x 1370 mm
© John Devane 
National Portrait Gallery until September 16

Most years the work on show at the BP Portrait Award Exhibition is of family, friends - or self-portraits.  Philip Glass is one of the exceptions, a celebrity whose operas, symphonies and compositions for his own ensemble have had an extraordinary impact upon musical and intellectual life. So too have his collaborations with artists ranging from Twyla Tharp to Allen Ginsberg, Woody Allen to David Bowie.

I first heard his Glassworks at  the Arnolfini Gallery Bookshop in Bristol, and have been listening ever since. He wrote the musical score for the film Koyaanisqatsi  (a Hopi Indian word meaning 'life out of balance'), made in 1982 and directed by Godfrey Reggio. The film may disappoint those searching for a plot or with an ear for dialogue: there is neither. Instead it paints a stunningly beautiful if apocalyptic vision of the collision of two worlds - urban life and technology versus the physical environment.

Furrowed and lined skin, penetrating eyes, a slightly down-turned mouth, casual clothes; it's probably unwise to project onto this portrait any individual 'reading' of this face. A camera captures and hands over to the viewer a fleeting moment, whereas portrait painters have a longer relationship with their subject and more possibilities of interpretation. Here Van Doom seems to give us the best of both worlds: the impression that we're looking at a lively but transitory image of a face which will change from moment to moment, but embedded in it is the serious intensity of a deeply creative intellect and imagination.

Phil 1969 by Chuck Close ;Acrylic on canvas 
274.3 x 213.4 cm Whitney Museum NY

Van Doorn studied at the Willem de Kooning Academie, Rotterdam and was commissioned to paint Princess Beatrix, when Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands, in 2000. Philip Glass agreed to sit for him when he visited the artist’s home town.  He is an important subject for van Doom: he had been inspired to become an artist after seeing Phil by Chuck Close. 

 Close's portraits are drawn from a wide circle of relatives and friends, many of whom are connected to the art world as artists, dealers and collectors. Characteristically starting with a small photograph that he took himself, Close drew a grid over the photograph, dividing it into small squares. Then he painted a much larger copy of each square of the grid onto the canvas. The title he gives the  portrait, Phil, adds an informality to an imposing image of an imposing musician.

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