The aim of portraiture has always been directed at capturing the inner essence of the portrayed. As stated by Charles Dickens, portraits often take the form of either “the serious or a smirk.” Marianne Lambert uses this to her advantage in Unconventional Portraiture. The exhibition currently on view at the Gallery Walk at Terminus presents a humorous and insightful look at contemporary portraiture through the work of 15 Atlanta artists.
Lambert’s artists seem to largely lean towards the smirk, however not always in the traditional sense. Fahamu Pecou and Brett Osborn use elements of formal portraiture combined with competent hand-eye precision to bend the rules in subtle ways. One of Osborn’s paintings, for example, begins from the figure’s head up, while the rest of the body is submerged in leaves. Meanwhile, Susan Loeb and Susan Cofer blatantly ignore convention to create utterly contemporary portraits.
The humor in Lambert’s curating becomes evident in her pairing of works. The show begins with Bruce Hafley and Cofer’s incredibly disparate portraits. Hafley’s Rawson & Environs, which mimics portraiture of late 15th century Italian Renaissance, directly contrasts with Cofer’s The Complete Jerry Cullum, the exhibition’s only sculpture and arguably the most progressive work in the show. Cofer’s entry is a papier-mâché diorama modeled after Atlanta’s art criticism darling, Jerry Cullum. Cullum’s figure is clad in a suit of newspaper clippings and looks quite at home in a hardwood gallery surrounded by sculpture and two-dimensional works by Cofer’s Atlantan contemporaries, Frank Hunter, Maurice Clifford, and E.K. Huckaby. Hafley and Cofer’s works directly correlate to one another and provide a striking showcase of the progression of the portrait.
Kathy Yancey and Linda Anderson follow a less formal, more illustrative and folk-art sensibility in their collaged paintings of both figure and ephemera. Yancey’s work almost shares the intention of an Egyptian tomb, depicting a family—enshrined in their family tree—surrounded by all the worldly possessions that they shall always be remembered by.
Silas Durant contributes the most traditional portrait in the lot. His oil painting, Untitled, depicts a young man seated in front of a large window. Next to the man rests an easel which holds an exquisitely rendered version of Vermeer’s Young Woman with a Water Jug from 1660. Situated with Hafley and Cofer’s work, this is a humorous reminder of centuries’ worth of portrait sitters, and further hammers home the theme of past versus present. It is this kind of synergy that makes Unconventional Portraiture so relevant and intriguing.