10th - 13th Oct 2024Saatchi Gallery, London


Catarina Diaz, Joy, 2020, 45✕55cm

What is portraiture? Traditionally, the term implies the artistic representation of a person on canvas. What often comes to mind are the grandiose portrait paintings of the Classical era, featuring stiffly poised subjects against artificial backdrops. Yet, how can the art of portraiture go beyond the boundaries of simple documentation?

Lee.K, Untitled #2014, Oil on canvas, 2020, 160✕135cm

Lee.K, Untitled #0205, Oil on pannel, 2020, 60✕45cm

The four artists featured in this article explore the ways in which portraiture can reflect much more than what meets the eye. From the use of impasto to create mesmerising layers of colour, to emphasising viewer interaction, all five artists defy the idea that to paint a portrait is to simply capture a person’s likeness. Indeed, portraiture can be so much more — a re-establishment of our connection with our ancestral nature, a form of communication, and a profound exploration of the identity rooted within ourselves.

In both Catarina Diaz and Marco Gonz’s artworks, the artists draw on the metropolitan setting and lifestyle as an inspiration to create portraits which urge our reconnection with nature. In the works of the former, the technique of combining both acrylics and collage infuses the urban with the rural. By combining the enigmatic female figure with flowers in full bloom, birds, and other wild animals, Diaz creates a blissful image of coexistence with nature. Similarly, Gonz uses the technique of impasto to create a textural relief. In the artwork, ‘Fruit Boy’ (2021), the overlapping brushstrokes of vibrant colour juxtapose the otherwise morose palette of the painting, spotlighting the piercing blue eyes of the subject. The creative composition of the painting evokes the desire to connect with our natural roots.

Catarina Diaz, So Pop, Velvet giclée clippings embellished with oil-sticks on canvas, 2021, 45✕55cm

Marc Gonz, Fruit Boy, Mixed media, 100✕100cm

Communication is often the essence of portraiture. Yet, South Korean artists Lee. K and Tina Kim seem to focus on a sense of non-communication, or anonymity. The works of Lee. K feature portraits of celebrities, whose faces are composed of frenetic lines. Like Gonz, the overall grey palette is enlivened with touches of colour. However, the subjects of Lee. K’s paintings refuse verbal communication with the viewer, as they are often painted without their mouths. The painting, “Untitled #0205” mysteriously leaves the viewer to interpret the emotion of the subject. Likewise, artist Tina Kim also emphasises non-expression. Her artworks explore her own nuanced relationship with the viewer, capturing the limitless possibilities of interaction between the portrait and the human eye.

Tina Kim, Hello 2021, 2021, Acrylic on leather tambourine, 10✕10cm

Tina Kim, Hello 2021, 2021, Acrylic on canvas, 30✕30cm