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Philip Gurrey On The Fascination With Self-Image In Contemporary Society

Philip Gurrey On The Fascination With Self-Image In Contemporary Society
Mask of a Lady, 2015, oil on board, 31 x 31 cm, image courtesy of Philip Gurrey.

art:i:curate artist Philip Gurrey was invited to create a new series of paintings around the concept of the 'Mask'.


Philip Gurrey’s work has evolved around a fascination about portraiture with a particular drive for history and politics. Drawing inspiration from the Dutch masters such as Rubens and Anthony van Dyck, Philip employs the physicality of the paint and creates fleshy portraits with a subconscious quality and a nostalgic sense that depict a fresh vision of the human condition. 


The 'black mark' which is the striking element in this new series of works expresses the artist's interest to further explore and challenge the limits of contemporary painting, by revealing the creative process while using the materials to question the medium itself.


PG: When asked to make this new series of paintings on the theme of the 'Mask', my intention was to create a number of society portraits inspired by 17th and 18th century artworks, in order to mirror our fascination with self-image in contemporary society. By researching the Scottish Society painters of the 18th century, I was intrigued by how similar our own images are selected and manipulated today, by ourselves, all be it in a somewhat digital manner, through facebook, photoshop etc. Very much the same way particular portrait painters selected to present the very best aspects of a sitter centuries earlier. The two paintings of this series, 'Mask of a Lord' and 'Mask of a Lady', reflect the aspect of our human psyche that plays with self-image and prosperity.



Mask of a Lord, 2015, oil and graphite on board, 45 x 55 cm, image courtesy of Philip Gurrey. 



The painting entitled 'Mask of Saint Ambrose' is slightly different. It draws inspiration from Peter Paul Rubens' study of a bearded man, which hangs in the national galleries of Scotland. This study was to be used for the face of Saint Ambrose in a larger work by the artist, which Rubens never made. The work was finally made by Anthony van Dyck, who used the same oil study by Rubens for his face of Ambrose. The vitality and speed of execution in this work by Rubens has always fascinated me. There is also a 'legend that as an infant, a swarm of bees settled on the face of Saint Ambrose as a child while he lay in his cradle, leaving behind a drop of honey. His father considered this a sign of his future eloquence and honeyed tongue.' This idea of a mask of Bees led me to copy the work by Rubens, creating a mask of flesh and no more. In a play on society portraits and religious folklore I wanted this image to resemble a preacher of some sort but also that of the everyman of Modern society.


The hair of these works remains a simple raw umber ground, and the rest of the face concealed from the viewer is painted in a heavy black impasto inspired by the work of Pierre Soulages. This device was used in order to symbolise the void. The 'fleshy' mask of each of these works along with the composition and borrowed context delivers us the information on the character of the sitter. The face underneath is a void. An abstract unknown, clothed and posed in such a way that invites the viewer to search for meaning within it. 



Mask of Saint Ambrose, 2015, oil on board, 45 x 55 cm, image courtesy of Philip Gurrey.



Philip Gurrey's new series of paintings are featured in the group exhibition 'Mask' taking place at Galleri X in Rungsted that will run through the 16th of October 2015.


Collect painting by Philip Gurrey.

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