Portraits in Exile

Godwin Bradbeer

The work presented at Ardel Gallery in the exhibition ‘Portraits in Exile’ shows recent drawings made upon figurative themes that have been constant - in various manifestations - in my art since my youth.

In its origins my drawing has aspects of a rigorous realism but the disengagement from the description of specific identity and the distractions of narrative and context suggests work that is becoming a meditation on ‘being’. This aspect of displacement and divorce from context positions me, or at least my singular subject, within its solitary formal confinement, in exile.

A deep love for the classical art of several cultures has shaped this imagery. Given that classical art is often encountered as damaged fragment - frequently desecrated and dislocated from origin and meaning – for me intensifies in particular ways its intrinsic beauty and nobility of design.

Central to this exhibition are several recent works under the thematic title; ‘Imago’ these drawings continue my preoccupation with the frontal gazing face of an anonymous person, ambiguous in its description in terms of sex, race, age and character. Though they risk the possibility of blandness and banality these works endeavour a poignant universality without the loss of the exoticism that is the mystery of each individual.

The ‘Imago’ series of drawings presents large ovoid visage images that gaze with what may be considered to be either neutrality or serenity toward or beyond the viewer. These works are inspired perhaps most obviously by Egyptian sculpture, but also by the beautiful abstractions of Constantin Brancusi and the classical icons and deities of many cultures. Indeed the works in this series are usually created in pairs and are designed and installed to represent mutual acknowledgement between both individuals and representative cultures. 

The ‘Imago’ series now number almost 30 versions, each are unique and are drawn without model or photograph referenced nevertheless from a million faces encountered. The ‘Imago’ drawings have been developed over a ten year period and because as a series it has become dispersed it appears in my imagination as a lineage of nobility, an anonymous dynasty in portraiture and exile, endeavouring both beauty and gravitas without the catastrophe of a descent into stereotype and cliché.

Within this exhibition a secondary theme is apparent; several works presenting various heads in profile. There is no collective title for these works but they are the most enduring theme within my long artistic practice. The human head and neck in profile is invariably the miniature icon of human grandeur on a coin where two dimensionalised in bas relief sculpture it sustains millennia of wear and injury with enduring integrity. Particularly evident in many of these is a visible subcutaneous vertebral column, which for me is a personal reference to my own vulnerability as the fortunate survivor of a broken neck when I was young.

The medium and the process used in these drawings is both conventional and idiosyncratic. The drawings are made ‘freehand’ without photographic mediation and only occasional reference is made to a model. Some of the drawings have an extensive armature of anatomical under - drawing in white chinagraph, though in the majority all form is comprised of dense layerings of chinagraph. In subsequent layers powdered pastel and dust are rubbed onto the surface and into this the articulation of form is described by the rendering of light and dark and the calligraphy of sgrafitto.

In the long process of developing these drawings I find my process becomes a perpetual oscillation between constructing and deconstructing, defining and obscuring, seeking order and surrendering to random impulse. Negotiating the contradictions and the polarities within myself in the solitude of the studio is for me, as for most other artists, the place of continuing exile.

Godwin Bradbeer January 2009

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