Gen uses portraiture to tell the stories of artists and other everyday people, believing that everyone deserves to have their portrait painted and their story told. Gen's contemporary egalitarian approach to portraiture differs from that of historical portraiture when portraits were made of people who had power, wealth, and often both: these people already had a strong sense of agency. In contrast, Gen deliberately use portraiture to tell the stories of people who do not necessarily have a voice or a platform but who are fascinating nonetheless.
No judging (me and my curlew gang), 2020, oil on linen, 106.9 x 106.9 x 3.3cm
I much prefer to paint portraits than self-portraits, but the COVID-19 isolation period of 2020 provided a challenge in terms of acquiring sitters. The obvious solution was to paint a self-portrait and to push through any discomfort. This work has many personal resonances:
It is about looking, seeing, and not seeing - there are seven literal and five metaphorical eyes staring out at the viewer.
It considers the human tendency to judge others by what we can see rather than what we can learn about the person – the painting’s title refers to the colloquial expression “no judging”, which paradoxically is often accompanied by a judgement.
It features the bush stone curlew, the native Australian bird with which I feel a curiously strong affinity. Curlews are birds of camouflage – during the day people often walk right by them, not even noticing them, but they are there.
It is a coming-of-age portrait – I was 50 at the time of the sitting. As I journeyed through the painting, I came to better accept all my wrinkles, sags and imperfections.
It has an art-historical reference – this time to Albrecht Dürer and his beguiling Self-portrait at Twenty-Eight (1500). My painting can be read as a subtle re-gendering of this iconic work, swapping Dürer’s ostentatious fur coat for my egalitarian denim jacket.
The portrait is just larger than life-size and introduces a rich burnt orange as the background colour.