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The National Portrait Gallery acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and to Elders both past and present.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are warned that this website contains images of deceased persons.

Truth and Likeness

Previous exhibition
from Friday 24 November 2006 until Monday 9 April 2007

This exhibition seeks to explore the nature of portraiture, providing an investigation into the importance of likeness to contemporary portraits. Truth and Likeness considers the essential dilemma in portrait making - how to record the visible outer surface and provide an insight into the character of the sitter - and asks if truth in portraiture necessarily implies realism.

Virus, 2006 by Ben Quilty
Virus, 2006 by Ben Quilty

Ben Quilty paints relationships.  His portraits of baby Joe, Grandpa and the tattooed Whytie are tributes to friends or family.  But Quilty also considers technical relationships, specifically the teasing relationship between recognition of the paint medium and of the image.  Appreciating paint as a tactile, sensual material and as means of representation, he engineers a balance of paint and portrait.

Quilty applies paint with broad gestural strokes, trowelled on to block out the broad masses of each face.  The exuberant paintwork is held in check by contour and tone, which he uses to describe the features of his subjects.  His meaty slabs of paint do not disguise the individuality of his sitters, which emerges through characteristic pose, familiar gesture or recognizable feature.  Colour is called on to enliven the canvas and to create an emotive impression of character.  Red and pink are used to evoke an emotional child, rainbow hues tell of a lively grandfather and simple browns and dark reds and blues slabs suggest the quiet strength of the tattooed man.

The very physicality of the thick paint plays a significant role in the recognition of the painting as an object and, simultaneously, as a building block for constructing likeness.  Perception of the image tends to slide in and out of focus, moving between paint and likeness.  Quilty negotiates likeness from the resistant materiality of the paint medium and the need for a recognisable image.

3 portraits

1 38 Degrees, 2006. 2 Joe, 2006. Both by Ben Quilty.

Related information

Lauren in Red, 2003
Lauren in Red, 2003
Lauren in Red, 2003
Lauren in Red, 2003

Is the truth of portraiture vested exclusively in likeness?

Magazine article by Michael Desmond, 2006

Curator Michael Desmond introduces the exhibition Truth and Likeness, an investigation of the importance of likeness to portraiture.

Milton Glaser Art is Work
Milton Glaser Art is Work
Milton Glaser Art is Work
Milton Glaser Art is Work

Sam Haskins

Portraits & Other Stories

Previous exhibition, 2006

Haskins is known for his poetic combinations of images and this exhibition of 'extended' portraits builds on this approach.

Self Portrait with fruit, 2004
Self Portrait with fruit, 2004
Self Portrait with fruit, 2004
Self Portrait with fruit, 2004

George Foxhill

Self Portraits

Previous exhibition, 2006

Foxhill's portraits are more concerned with describing an emotional and psychological state than the surface topography of the human face.

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The National Portrait Gallery acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and to Elders past and present. We respectfully advise that this site includes works by, images of, names of, voices of and references to deceased people.

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