Cv/VAR Archive & Editions
Jonathan Yeo Portrait Study (Nicole) 2007,
Oil on canvas 30 x 30 cms
Courtesy of the Artist
Interview recorded 15th July 2010
Cv/VAR The amazing completeness of your technique: you taught yourself portrait painting. How did you build your art?
JY There was no method to it at all. My parents lived near the Tate Gallery,Tate Britain as it is now, and I used to go there on the way to my studio. I looked at works that interested me. Quite often Id go to look at one piece. It would vary from Pre-Raphaelites to modern masters like Picasso, Braque and Matisse, to British painters such as Bomberg and Freud. I wasnt even working out why they were doing it, but approaching it from a purely aesthetic point of view. I was trying to work out the technique of the artists. I built up something of an armoury of styles and approaches, which gradually evolved into a style of my own. In a way portraits avoid making conceptual, philosophical or narrative statements.
Portrait painting is a very interesting form of engagement. Your subject places their trust in you. Its a form of dialogue, or an exchange?
The portrait, as an object,is a record of the chemistry between the artist and the sitter. Its a record of that month, or the length of sittings. You have to break down the barriers between yourself and the sitter, in order to get something interesting to record. Around the time I started painting, Id been ill with Hodgkins Disease; not one of the most severe cancers, but was still life threatening enough to make me re-evaluate things. Also people treated me differently; as if Id gained more insight to mortality and other things.Other events at the time made my life more complicated, morewell known.Peoples lives are more complicated than we expect. They feel an imperative to maintain a veneer of normality towards strangers and the outside world. Of course nobody lives that ideal, Daily Mail sort of view of family life, of a normal existence. Therefore, as soon as people realise youve had an unusual life yourself, they feel much more comfortable in unburdening themselves. People trusted me a lot more from that point on, would open up more and reveal more of themselves.