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The New Portraiture

  • 3 min read

To say that Tate Britain's new blockbuster exhibition All Too Human – Bacon, Freud and a Century of Painting Life is causing a stir, would be an understatement. There’s a major buzz about this new London exhibit, which explores how Francis Bacon and Lucian Freud – as well as Paula Rego, Frank Auerbach and Walter Sickert – captured the intensity of human experience on canvas. Not something that’s all that easy to do.

While the approach and style of the artists featured in this headlining art show differ widely, one thing they all have in common is a fearless approach to representing their subjects. Bold, honest and confronting are three more words we might choose to use. As are textural, tactile and, well, impressive. A focus of the Art world for quite some time, the build-up to, and launch of, the exhibition has put figurative painting firmly back in the spotlight.

Here at artrepublic, we’re no stranger to modern portraiture – and not because we’ve watched Sky’s Portrait Artist of the Year. We’ve long had a stand-out roster of contemporary masters of portraiture, including the likes of Marco Grassi, Ant Carver, Ben Slow and SNIK, each of whom brings something fresh to the table.

Fine art meets graffiti style in the works of Italian artist Marco Grassi, who paints the female form with realistic intensity but aims to draw out identity of his female subjects at the specific moment in which they're painted. His dedication to figurative painting, and lack of desire to follow trends, results in works that are slightly surreal but deeply evocative.

Rather than detract from the figures depicted in his prints, the gold leaf finish that Grassi often favours throw added light on the subject, seeming to bring the portrait itself forward in space. Similarly colourful, but varying stylistically, you may find the work of Art Carver gracing the walls of East London the work of London… or even in Philadelphia, where he created a large-scale mural of teenage model and Instagram sensation Inka Williams. Taking inspiration from both the New York graffiti scene and more traditional portraiture, Carven has has also cited the likes of Lucien Freud and the YBA’s Jenny Saville as personal favourites.

Although these influences seem contradictory – formal art school realism versus street art’s free-flowing rebellious streak – Carver has merged them successfully to create highly textural portraits, using both spray and oil paint. The prints we have available at artrepublic - such as ‘Serenity’ and ‘Paradise’ - showcase his subjects with a raw, unflinching intensity.

Another fixture of the London street scene, up-and-coming London artist Ben Slow is known for creating distinctive and expressive portraits on canvas – which translate beautifully to silkscreen prints, such as ‘I Didn’t Mean It Like That’ and ‘Of Great Stature.’ Whether he’s bringing fine art to the streets – keeping it local by celebrating characters who have made an impact on their community – or in the studio, layering his main material, ink, with spray paint, stencils and acrylic paint, Slow creates portraits that tell real human stories, and draw empathy for his subjects, both through and beyond the artwork. It’s the eyes that draw you in. Every time.

Last, but by no means least, we at artrepublic are also big fans of celebrated stencil art duo SNIK. No doubt wary of constant references to Banksy every time stencil art is discussed, SNIK are on a mission to prove that stencils can also be used to achieve a high level of realism and detail. Working with different mediums, techniques, paints and varnishes, and painstakingly drawing and cutting multiple layers by hand, the duo create slick, sharp – and almost photo-realistic – images such as ‘Fading Glow.

When you know what goes into each of these artists’ artworks, you can’t help but look at their prints with an whole new layer of respect. We can't wait to see where they take modern portraiture next, but if you’re a fan of the figurative, you should take it home while you can. 'All Too Human' is at Tate Britain until 27 August. Discover Marco Grassi, Ant Carver, Ben Slow and Snik prints to buy online or visit Brighton gallery.

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