Cara Delevingne was the ideal choice of subject for Yeo’s series of work exploring identity and image in the age of social media with her rapid emergence as global fashion icon and Hollywood actress. With a huge and rapidly increasing global following, a reflection of her signature ability to make a direct and honest connection with the public, Delevingne deconstructs the idea of the perfect celebrity; a contemporary alternative to Warhol’s static portraits of Marilyn Monroe and Elizabeth Taylor. She represents a generation who are more in control of their image and instinctively use new modes of selfportraiture to create public and private personas alike. The square format of Warhol’s portraits of 20th Century icons is echoed in Cara Study I but with the added resonance through our newfound familiarity with 21st Century image sharing platforms such as Instagram.
This luminous image is at once both classical and Old Masterly, but also unmistakably contemporary with its gestural, neon pink under painting contrasting sharply with the classic handling of the virtuoso flesh tones. Like the other paintings in the series, which has been likened to the work of painters Adrian Ghenie and Michaël Borremans, the highly finished surface of the face juxtaposes with the abstract to challenge the photographic assumption that we see everything in focus. In a Richard Cork essay, in which he likens Yeo to Francis Bacon, he highlights the central tension in the work between its finished and unfinished surfaces, quoting the artist’s assertion: “I like elements of abstraction and uncertainty: it’s never resolved, and photography is not how we see things. I want to get closer to how we see an image” (Richard Cork, ‘Jonathan Yeo: Exploring Visual Extremes’, In The Flesh, The Museum of National History at Frederiksborg Castle: Denmark, 2016, p.99).
Fellow artist Damien Hirst compared Yeo to ‘Turner strapping himself to the ship’s mast in order to create a true likeness of a storm, time and time again he achieves what should be impossible: creating a true picture, an image or a glimpse, of people we think we know and those we’ve never met’ (Damien Hirst, ‘What is a Portrait? ‘, The Many Faces of Jonathan Yeo, Art Books Publishing Ltd: London, 2013, p.10). Hirst’s powerful portrait was unveiled at Yeo’s landmark National Portrait Gallery retrospective in 2013.
The paintings of Delevingne highlight the ongoing relevance of portraiture in the digital
age and as National Portrait Gallery Director Dr Nicholas Cullinan, who opened the exhibition in Denmark where the paintings were unveiled, observed, Yeo’s, “ongoing innovations in theme and narrative and his engagement with society continue to challenge the genre of portraiture and reinvigorate it for the present era.” (Dr Nicholas
Cullinan, “Introduction” (speech, Museum of National History at Frederiksborg Castle, March 19, 2016).
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