Electric! Portraits that pop!

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Bright, arresting portraits were on the hit list for National Portrait Gallery curator Christopher Chapman when he started putting together a new show to help celebrate the gallery’s 20th anniversary. Chapman says the show Electric! Portraits that pop! has a wonderful sense of freshness about it, with portraits in various media, many of which seem to have their origins deeply coloured by 1960s pop art.

Chapman has clearly had a good fossick through the NPG collection, selecting some well-known works alongside others that are either rarely seen, or on display for the first time. They include paintings, prints, photos and what he describes as “buoyant” video portraits. Polly Borland’s 1999 shot of musician Natalie Imbruglia is one that many visitors will be familiar with – the half-smile and extraordinarily bright eyes are brought into full relief against a startling blue background.

Less familiar is the Selina Snow painting of chef Christine Manfield from 1997. Surrounded by flowers and with two pieces of dessert (her specialty) floating in front of her, something of Manfield’s character emerges – just as the early photo (1980) of Nicole Kidman by Lewis Morley gives an indication of who this young woman with the head of curls and a determined expression was to become.

More blasts of colour can be seen in works such as Ken Done’s Me (1992), Ross Watson’s baroque and cherub-encrusted Ian Roberts (after Coypel 1709), and Tracey Moffatt’s magnificent portrait of David Gulpilil, The Movie Star (1985).

As Chapman says, this selection is designed to arrest us with a lot of colour and movement – and video portraits such as those of Layne Beachley (2008), Paul Kelly (2013) and Bruce Petty (2008) do that with great confidence.

Electric! Portraits that pop!
National Portrait Gallery
11 September—22 April

This article was originally published in the November/December 2018 edition of Art Guide Australia.

Andrew Stephens