Darren Coffield: Face Off

The National Print Gallery is proud to present an exhibition of paintings, drawings and prints by Darren Coffield, the only artist to be shortlisted for these three major UK Art competitions in 2010: The John Moores Contemporary Painting Prize; The BP Portrait Award at The National Portrait Gallery and The Threadneedle Prize.

In their exploration of the themes of celebrity, identity, the function of representation and how we perceive each other, these works subvert the viewer’s instinctive faculties for reading human features to create some of the most stimulating and provocative portraits of recent years. Initially the eyes and the brain struggle to interpret the information that is presented in reconfigured format, prompting a personal reassessment of one of the most basic and instinctive human reflexes: the ability to read another human face.

Coffield explains: “There is now an excessive exposure to faces in the media. We see in the media faces that have been idealised, manipulated and touched up. When viewed, the face creates in the mind a kind of Orwellian doublethink. We know that we are viewing a manipulated ‘untruth’ and yet we hold the image to be true, a notion of beauty to obtain or aspire to. The face has a strong social, cultural and historical role. An inverted face is not only difficult to recognise but repositions our sensitivity to the spatial relationships between human features. Here, facial features become strange constellations of communication, whilst new facial recognition patterns emerge.”

These works are not a simple, formulaic inversion of the features, but a sensitive reinterpretation of the physiognomy. Like any intelligent portrait they have a dynamic aesthetic, individually tailored to reflect the personality of the subject. Even in their reordered state, the features retain the character of the sitter – muddled features, that hang down like a bizarre veil. Some are famous and iconic celebrities, who are instantly recognisable by their pose, and the viewer is lulled into a false sense of security by the shape of the head or a familiar hairstyle; others are obscure actors staring out from forgotten publicity stills. It is impossible not to become enmeshed in the process of identifying the subject.

In the 175 years or so since the invention of photography, the function of the painted portrait has evolved from its purpose as accurate documentary representation to a more fluid, interpretive role. Technology has progressed but it is facial recognition, the way in which our features are arranged, that still forms the basis of digital and security systems. We intuitively identify faces from birth, expressing ourselves and monitoring others by the slightest change of expression. We interpret any two random circles with a line underneath as a face, the ubiquitous “smiley” for example. It is these primeval conventions that Coffield questions and reinterprets to great effect.

Critic David Sylvester, known for his championing of his close friends Alberto Giacometti, Francis Bacon and Lucien Freud, and described in his Guardian obituary as “one of the finest writers on art in the second half of the twentieth century,” described Coffield as “Another of those magicians who (probably without knowing) know how to imbue pieces of matter with light”.

In the early nineties Coffield worked closely with Joshua Compston on the formation of Factual Nonsense, a gallery in Shoreditch that became the centre of the emerging Young British Artists scene. The list of participants reads like a Who’s Who of young British art, including: Matt Collishaw, Tracey Emin, Angus Fairhurst, Gilbert & George, Damien Hirst, Gary Hume, Sarah Lucas, Gavin Turk, Jessica Voorsanger, Gillian Wearing, Sue Webster and Tim Noble. A new book by Coffield about this exciting period in British Art, “Factual Nonsense: The Art and Death of Joshua Compston” is to published in the UK in 2012.

Darren Coffield was born in London in 1969 and studied at Goldsmiths College, Camberwell School of Art and the Slade School of Art in London. He has exhibited widely in the company of many leading artists including Damien Hirst, Howard Hodgkin, Patrick Caulfield and Gilbert and George at venues ranging from the Courtauld Institute, Somerset House to Voloshin Museum, Crimea. His work can be found in collections around the world. Coffield lives and works in London.

The National Print Gallery is publishing a new screenprint by Darren Coffield entitled Cary to coincide with the Face Off exhibtion, a challenging image of actor, Cary Grant.

Duration 15 December 2011 - 11 January 2012
Times by appointment
Cost Free
Venue The National Print Gallery
Address 8b Conway Street London W1T 6BD, ,
Contact 020 7323 1109 / info@nationalprintgallery.com / www.nationalprintgallery.com

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