On the edge of abstract and back to realism, this Art at Home edit looks at eight artists’ take on contemporary portraiture.
These contemporary portrait artists take cues from traditional and modern methods, featuring the physicality of people and their character. With compositions that explore the sense of a person, bright colours or deep tones appear, revealing the individuality of both the artist and the sitter.
In our first example of contemporary portraiture, Bronwyn Hill depicts herself, capturing her relationship with the world around her. In bright colours and vivid realism, the lone figure interacts with nature. A bug crawls across a bedspread while the artist is wrapped in a duvet, or butterflies join her at the table to sample the excessive fruit platter. She is at home, without other humans, and so the viewer is left contemplating our relationship with ourselves and the natural world.
Born in communist East Germany, the now Australia-based artist Kathrin Longhurst explores themes of democracy and freedom of expression in her realist portraits. Overlaid with this imagery, the figures — often women — instead hold themselves strong and independent in Kathrin’s artworks. Captured in oil paints, the artist’s work has been featured in several editions of the Archibald Prize (winning the Packing Room Prize 2021 with her representation of Australian singer Kate Ceberano).
With an unconventional approach to contemporary portraiture, British-born, Australian-based artist Lynn Savery depicts life and energy in her artworks. The artist is inspired by how we dress and the costumes we use to represent ourselves in the world. This love began as a small child after her grandmother gave her a suitcase full of furs and pearls, hats, coats, gloves and scarves to play with, as well as colourful costumes from her grandfather’s days as an acrobat in vaudeville. This iconography can still be seen in her paintings today.
Full of thick texture and swashes of pale paint, South African artist Anna Van Der Ploeg’s artworks hover in a dreamlike space, evocative of transient moments. With a practice spanning printmaking, sculpture, and painting, Anna’s work as a beekeeper informs her art. She wanted to understand our relationship to micro-organisms, a perspective of living within a box at the whim of powers higher than ourselves.
Featuring a distinct washed-out and dark colour palette, Rachel Coad’s portraits delve into the artist’s interest in existentialism and the viewer’s engagement. Her figures are captured in sepia tones to evoke a sense of nostalgia. However, she uses a large-scale format that transcends personal memories and turns the figures into larger-than-life representations. The artworks aim to reveal the relationship and connection between people and the huge effect they can have on us.
Nathan Betts’ artworks are vivid and bright, capturing portraits in pinks, blues, and red hues. Here the artist depicts the sense of the person — they are more than meets the eye. Nathan uses his paintings to explore a sense of curiosity, where the everyday and mundane are transformed through the expressive application of paint and oil pastel in a playful combination of abstraction and portraiture.
Based in the lush Currumbin Valley in Queensland, Irish artist Ben Crawford explores the landscape and portraiture in his paintings. People appear in the composition, balancing between reality and the surreal, interacting with their surroundings. The artworks are a blend of memories and dreams taking place in spaces between domestic and rugged environments.
Regional artist Lori Pensini focuses on capturing Australia outside of the major cities after growing up on a farm in remote Western Australia. Today her oeuvre is filled with Australiana — bush flowers and ochre tones of the earth — plus represented figures of the people who live in Australia. Lori’s work meets this sense at the colonial settler perspective and how two cultures continue to navigate the landscape.