Oak, Steel & Cotton
Oak, Steel & Cotton, Was an attempt at characterising the British nation and conveying its changes through time. The full length portrait an illusion to many of the portraits that occupy space in places of national significance, such as the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square and Buckingham Palace. These grand paintings of military leaders such as Lord Wellington, were the personification of national ambition. But in a time of reflection and reappraisal, my thoughts entertained the quandary of what image would suffice today. I didn't want to make a portrait that would be the fresh modern interpretation of this theme divorced from the legacy of our nation. Therefore, I felt that the image should elude heavily to the canon of this kind of portraiture and the history of my nation, particularly in regard to our former standpoint as looters and rulers of the world. now a"nation in decline" I did also not think that the image should be particularly bright and forward looking. Though I have attempted to encapsulate modern society through personification in the past and utilised what I felt the be the best version of our society, in this piece I wanted to evoke Don Quixote or Ms Havisham. A subject bereft of power but clinging still to the finery of their lineage.
Using myself as model for the figure and taking my perceived place as a rightful heir to the figures in the paintings to which this piece was to be pastiche. I added adornments representative of the nations history and its current place in the socio economics of global politics. The hat that of Nelson, decorated however with a paper poppy and the shells of conquered islands in the Caribbean and Pacific. The combination of these features referencing Britains ability to be somewhat selective in its memory of conflict. Around the neck meanwhile a crown, but instead of dripping with gold, it and the sword caught between its spikes form a muzzle. created through the legacy of the action of slavery and represented by the cotton of which this collar is made as well as the scabbard of the sword used to subdue a host of nations. Now in the present day this National figure laid bare in front of their audience, wears what would once have been a proud symbol as a mark of shame. Like a dog collared and muzzled quelling any kind of defence of once reprehensible actions.
Other additions include a book, John Milton's Paradise Lost, both a great work of fiction and something to be proud of, it does also draw reference to English Christianity and an exceptionalist view of our genius that proved detrimental to those we considered as inferior. In the other had the sword symbolic of British character on the global stage is resting on a globe. A reference to a portrait of the privateer Sir Francis Drake his hand on the globe to represent the power of the British Empire. This time however, the image proves to be message about the destabilisation of British Foreign policy on the world in the 20th and particularly 21st centuries. The background of the piece once again haunts the figure and his audience, the ghostly masts of a Ship of the Line and the outline of the map of India no longer completely covered by a union jack. This piece had successes and failings but I do think has value as a thought provoking image of the national character when not divorced from its history.