Portrait of a Woman Paintings 2014 – 2016
30 Sep – 05 Nov 2016
Ian McKeever’s recent paintings, Portrait of a Woman, all 2014 to 2016, have a close link to three very large – and in McKeever’s work central – paintings from 1994 to 1995 made as an homage to Marianne North, a female British painter and explorer who during the 19th century travelled the world painting exotic landscapes.
Similar to the Marianne North Paintings, the recent works are horizontal in format and appear as divided sequences of light, transparency and bodily presence. Each of the works are made up of three panels similar to the classic triptych form. The central panel is always either black or white and built up out of transparent veils of paint. The side panels on the other hand are more monochrome and consist of visually intense fields of paint in green, deep burgundy, black etc. These coloured side panels seem more dense or blocky in character, and somehow more defined in relation to the raw cotton canvas coming through mostly at the edges of the paintings. Because of the visually different panels, the paintings appear to continually close and open space; a bit similar to doors and windows that are continually shifting positions.
The title of the group, Portrait of a Woman, is alluding to early Italian portrait painting which has been an inspiration for the works. They reflect various formal devices in these early paintings; how the subject is being framed, the softer modelled face, how the figure is being defined in relation to such things as formal clothing, hair decorations, or surrounding architectural features. A primary issue in this dialogue with the portrait genre is how these images redefine the gaze, in the sense that the sitter’s head is during the 15th century turned to be full face looking out to the viewer. Arguably this new looking, face to face, is in turn changing the logic of painting and how it relates to the viewer, with consequences that can be followed into the present.
These and other aspects associated with Renaissance paintings of women are reflected in the new works, although not figuratively but in an abstract visual language continuing McKeever’s underlying concerns through many years of painting. The paintings are not portraits of “someone”, rather they pick up the historical context as a frame for a painting beyond – and yet with traces of – figuration, the body, and the gaze.