Published in the Winter 2012 issue of RA Magazine
Humphrey Ocean RA's portrait of RA Magazine Editor Sarah Greenberg. I have looked at countless portraits but I never sat for one until recently, when Humphrey Ocean RA painted me for this page, as part of the redesign of RA Magazine's print edition (see right). When he finished, I was surprised to find that you can hardly see my face. Is this indeed a portrait? Humphrey said he was trying to portray my energy as an editor, marking proofs, pen in hand, pages falling to the floor – a mood rather than specific features. For more on sitting for a portrait by Humphrey Ocean, see the RA Magazine blog.
This raises the age-old conundrum of portraits: how do you capture a person in paint – not just their features but their spirit?
Manet was a master of this art, as our cover – an alluring portrait of his friend the painter Berthe Morisot – shows. The Impressionist scholar Belinda Thompson introduces our exhibition Manet: Portraying Life, describing his strikingly modern approach to portraits. He rarely accepted commissions, preferring to paint friends and family and to create informal tableaux that blur the boundaries between portraiture and scenes from daily life, as in his enigmatic masterpieces The Railway and The Luncheon.
Gainsborough is famous for his portraits, but his true love was painting landscapes, which he did in his summer holidays. Ian Warrell describes his almost furtive pursuit of landscape, a form of resistance to Sir Joshua Reynolds’ assertion that history painting was the highest form of art. As the RA’s exhibition Constable, Gainsborough, Turner and the Making of Landscape reveals, these early Royal Academicians found in the British landscape a subject as evocative, changing and expressive as any human face.
The artist Mariko Mori, a former fashion model, starred in her earlier multi-media video work, creating quirky self-portraits. As she strode through futuristic dreamscapes dressed as exotic characters, such as aliens and mermaids, she used her body to portray different visions of feminine identity. Now she has moved into abstraction, creating installations that suggest notions of rebirth: she wants her art to make people feel ‘connected to the life-cycle of the universe’, she says.
You may have noticed that RA Magazine has had a rebirth of sorts and looks different. We have redesigned the magazine to complement the RA’s new visual identity, aiming to create a clearer, simpler design, which is modern while also reflecting the RA’s history, its artists and the diverse range of art we show. I’d like to thank our Art Director Luke Hayman and his team at Pentagram New York for their creative contribution and for weathering ‘Frankenstorm Sandy’ to finalise the designs. I’d also welcome your comments on the magazine redesign. As Humphrey said when I left his studio, ‘a portrait is a collaboration – an artist needs a sitter’. Likewise, a magazine needs its readers, so please let us know what you think.
You can also share your thoughts in the comments box below.