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Portrait Heads - oils (c.1975-2005)
Embarks on the Portrait Heads series (1975-2007), the fifth distinctive period in the artist's work.Assessing the artist prior to the advent of his celebrated portrait heads of literary and artistic figures, Dorothy Walker writes in Hibernia: 'He emerges with a form of art which is, I think, unique in the world of art at present. While classical in terms of brush-stroke oil painting, it is beyond the avant-garde in terms of social concern, and is of the immense over-riding concern for the anguish of the individual'. The motivation comes about through a commission by the Swedish gallery-owner Per-Olov Borjesson to assemble a portfolio of thirty three aquatints of Nobel prizewinners by international artists. This commission was the catalyst which inspired the artist to paint a long series of evocative heads of literary figures and fellow artists, including W.B. Yeats, James Joyce and his friends Samuel Beckett, Francis Bacon, Seamus Heaney and Bono. Le Brocquy remarks: 'From among the several Irish Nobel prizewinners at that date - Beckett had not yet received his award - I chose Yeats as my subject, having known him when I was a boy and because of his vast and mysterious personality. I made a number of studies for my final aquatint, and was struck by their diversity. It was then I realised that a portrait can no longer be the stable, pillared entity of Renaissance vision - that the portrait in our time can have no visual finality'. John Montague observes: 'So the le Brocquy who rejected an early career as a portrait painter finds himself, as all artists do, back where he started, but with an added richness'. According to Alistair Smith: 'Le Brocquy found himself painting study after study in watercolour, charchoal and oil, as a form of preparation for the final print. That aquatint, concluded in the suggestive, vestigial manner of some of the earlier Heads, showed the poet full-face, hovering within the white "matrix" of space and time ... The etching bears the title Study towards an Image of WB Yeats, as did many of the other pictures of Yeats which le Brocquy created in preparation for this image, and which he was to continue to create after its completion' The artist explains: 'In order to produce a human image which has some kind of contemporary relevance, you have to recognise that certain factors which have arisen in the last hundred years have revolutionised the way we look at things. Because of photography and the cinema on the one hand, and psychology on the other, we can no longer regard a human being as a static entity, subject to merely biological change ... Replacing the single definitive image by a series¯ of inconclusive images has, therefore, perhaps something to do with contemporary vision, perceiving the image as a variable conception rather than a definitive manifestation in the Renaissance sense ... Repetition, on the other hand, implies not linear but circular thought, a merry-go-round interpretation of reality, another form of completion, another whole, which can be entered or left at any point. This latter counter-Renaissance tendency is, curiously enough, already evident here and there within our Irish tradition, from the Books of Kells and Lindisfarne to Finnegans Wake.' ...
COLM TOIBIN. A PORTRAIT OF THE ARTIST AS AN ALCHEMIST | LOUIS LE BROCQUY. THE HUMAN HEAD. NOTES ON PAINTING AND AWARENESS