REVIEW: Jonathan Yeo Portraits @ Laing Art Gallery, Newcastle | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Sometimes it’s a privilege to be in the presence of real God-given talent. Wandering around the latest big-name exhibition at the Laing with the knowledge that Jonathan Yeo hasn’t had any formal art training is actually quite humbling (he started to paint whilst undergoing cancer treatment over ten years ago). Previously at the National Portrait Gallery last year, this exhibition boasts three new works – the Duchess of Cornwall, Lily Cole as Helen of Troy and a self-portrait (apt in the selfie age). For me, the genius is in the eyes of each of his portraits – the exquisite detail of each face surrounded by the unfinished aspects (hair, clothing, background).

Alongside individual portraits, there’s a picture wall featuring international stars like Nicole Kidman, Kristen Scott Thomas, Sienna Miller and Stephen Fry. Stand out pieces include the model Erin O’Connor (the likeness is eerie) and Grayson Perry as his alter ego Claire – they all manage to look extremely old, even though some were painted this year. My personal favourite is Helena Bonham Carter; it’s playful and perfectly captures her personality, dressed like a barrow boy surrounded by pinkish flowers.

Perhaps some of his best work revolves around power, politicians and controversial figures. Turn a corner and you’ll see Rebekah Brookes and Rupert Murdoch hung side by side. The facial shading is amazing and is especially visible in the Tony Blair portrait. In the third room you’ll find an idealised self-portrait and Damien Hirst in his chemical protection suit, as you do. His drawing skills equal his painting excellence – there are sketches of the three Party leaders from 2001. Also look out for the controversial yet brilliant George Bush collage made out of pornographic magazines (that’s what happens when you cancel your sitting). A fantastic coup for the Laing and the North East.

Jonathan Yeo’s Portraits are at the Laing Art Gallery, Newcastle until 1st February 2015.

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