Jonathan Yeo: A Man of Many Faces

National Portrait Gallery, London.
Until January 5.

The journey of the new portrait artist of our time.

December 5, 2013
by Josephine Price
Jonathan Yeo, Malala Yousafzai

It must be strange to be a successful portrait artist whose face is plastered all over the media as much as those of his subjects.

British artist Jonathan Yeo, now 42, is enjoying a surge in popularity following his first collection in the National Portrait Gallery. It is accompanied by a dedicated edition of the BBC’s The Culture Show, and a new book perfectly suited for a coffee table.

Yeo has stuck to a myriad of easy-to-please faces such as Sienna Miller, Kevin Spacey and Michael Parkinson.  His more recent portrait of Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani school-girl who was shot by the Taliban, however strikes a poignant tone as we pass beneath her piercing eyes.

In addition to producing conventional portraits of famous figures, Yeo has at times gone down more interesting and rebellious routes. A fine examples lies in his pornographic collage of contorting nudes uniting as the face of George Bush, in response to the revocation of a presidential commission.

Verging on photorealism, familiar faces are powerfully juxtaposed against negative space, and is as necessary to his compositions as the subjects themselves. Yeo at time rejects traditional methods to favour more modern, ‘edgy’ techniques such as collage.