Jonathan Yeo at The National Portrait Gallery


If you haven’t seen the work of Jonathan Yeo take yourself along to The National Portrait gallery. Since the early 2000’s Yeo has emerged as one of the UK’s most highly regarded portrait painters. This is his first show at the NPG and includes some never -before -seen images.

Yeo is a self taught artist who famously began to paint when while recovering from Hodgkin’s disease. He has covered a kaleidoscopic array of celebrity and public figures, ranging from Tony Blair to Hugh Heffner, and Paris Hilton.

There is certainly spontaneity to his portraits. Some are so polished and intensely life-like that they appear almost photographic. However, they are far more striking than photographs and the eyes of every portrait take you deep into the character and life of their sitters.

Grayson Perry, dressed as his alter ego Claire, is sitting contentedly on a pink bed with pink pillows in a ruched pink dress. Perfect. The portrait of Damien Hirst shows him in a chemical protection suit, reminiscent of his cow in formaldehyde. Kevin Spacey, in the guise of Richard III, is a powerful portrait and has a more relaxed painterly quality about it, as does the characterful portrait of Helena Bonham Carter.

Malala, the Pakistani schoolgirl is beautifully portrayed. A headdress of soft pinks folds around her young face and the looser paint marks strengthen and smooth to reveal a vulnerability and innocence.

There is an interesting balance to the choice subject in each room, with some thoughtful juxtapositions. The overall impression of the exhibition is of an artist whose choices encompass the trash and the majesty of the postmodern cult of celebrity, all couched in an overt hyper reality; and yes, in Yeo’s painting the eyes have it.


by Barbara Byars

Jonathan Yeo’s Portraits are on show at the National Portrait Gallery until 5th January 2014.