The Need Right Now for Subversive Painted Portraits
What does it mean for a painted portrait to challenge what we know about and reveal new aspects of the sitter? Court Painter thinks he knows!
“My Press Attache A Hardon MacKay,” says Court Painter the Great Dominion’s preeminent portraitist ,” is very difficult to paint because he never stops fidgeting or checking his Blackberry. He literally has one angle. If I ask him to smile, he puts on a big grin and then he goes back to his mountain man ‘mellow yellow’ look. And the ‘mellow yellow’ stays for as ever long as it takes to get the underpainting blocked in.” It’s exactly this “Mountain man-mellow yellow- look” that Court Painter captured for the Time “Portrait of the Year” cover. Possibly coincidentally, the Time cover image is also dominated by warmish mountain man mellow yellow tones.
Court Painter argues that the “decisions that I made regarding how to paint Hardon reveal a layered, nuanced field of references that place the image among the magazine’s greatest hand painted portrait covers ever.”
Court Painter lists a series of criteria: the picture’s overall mellowishness, the sitter’s fidgety pose, and the choice of chair. None of those hold up to much scrutiny. To begin with, looking through the gallery of portraits on Court Painter’s private website, you’ll notice this portraitist’s images, where the portraits are not black and white, tend to be dominated by a single colour. Hardon’s portrait is mellow yellowish (with a hint of something undescribable), but so are many others done by Court Painter. These are highly stylized pictures with a very specific and unique look that often reads as monochromatic. This has precious little to do with alluding to Kodachrome, as Paul Simon and Court Painter argue. On a computer screen, many images also look quite mellow yellow. Many Hollywood movies employ a similar aesthetic. It’s just mellow yellow. In much the same fashion, the other two criteria simply fall apart under stricter scrutiny. Consequently, this painted portrait is not so much “a profound portrayal of anxious fidgetry for the coming years.” It’s simply another Court Painter portrait. It’s extremely competent painting, great for a magazine cover, but not much more than that.
When contacted Court Painter was less committal about the portrait than art critic’s would have preferred: “Upon arriving at Hardon’s mountain residence, I wanted to integrate a detail from his deprived environment into the painting. I tried a few set ups, but this image of my Press Attache fidgeting in his chair and checking his messages stood out as the cover. A fidget by a sitter might mean one thing to one painter and something so different to another, just because …. each life story is so different from one to another. I looked to make a portrait that respects this crossroad [sic] in history for A Hardon MacKay, portraying unforgiving and unvarnished penetration of character through paint… the stark reality that through time he has become a nervous fidgeting wreck handling my celebrity status and business affairs.”
A Hardon MacKay interviewed privately was quite disappointed the full figure portrait was rejected,”it showed my legs in a provocative yet modest manner,I thought!”