Michael Landy, self-portrait, 2008 © National Portrait Gallery
One of my favourites among the prolific YBA’s is fame shirking Michael Landy - an artist whom I’ve written about several times for various editorials - whose newest exhibition Michael Landy: Art World Portraits is showing in room 40 of the National Portrait Gallery until 17th July and is absolutely free – just waiting for your perusal.
Grouped together for the first time, twelve pencil-drawn portraits are on display focusing on sitters taken from across the art world, many of personal significance to Landy himself, being fellow mover and shakers within the YBA movement of the mid ‘90s. The exhibition includes a self-portrait of Landy himself and eleven other portraits of Michael Craig-Martin, Norman Rosenthal, Charles Booth-Clibborn, Rachel Whiteread, Carl Freedman, Ian Davenport, Sarah Lucas, Maureen Paley, James Lingwood, Karsten Schubert and Gillian Wearing – Landy’s long-term partner.
Gillian Wearing by Michael Landy © Michael Landy / Courtesy the artist and Thomas Dane Gallery, London
Created as part of a larger project which lasted for over a period of almost a year in 2008, the Art World Portraits project saw Landy draw for eight hours a day, seven days a week, uncovering a perhaps obsessive desire to perfect his art. Whilst extremely gifted I perhaps underestimated the former YBA as a one-trick-pony in terms of creating thought-provoking personal and public large-scale installation pieces, clearly taking for granted that he might be a gifted natural artist, which shines through in this inspired exhibition.
Offering a way for Landy to reconnect with and spend time with the sitters whom had once had such an impact on his life/ career, the results are breathtaking and reveal an intimacy between the artist and sitters, underlined by an unequivocal desire for focus and perfection. Always beginning with the sitter’s left eye, Landy likened his drawing process to making an inventory of the face, creating a series of closely observed works, presented without necks or shoulders, floating ethereally on the page.
What shone through most in the portraits for me was Landy’s extreme attention to detail, which was phenomenal, depicting the most perfectly detailed freckles, wispy hairs on and inside ears, stubble and all of the things that reflect age such as wrinkles and sunken eyes that a good photograph might even miss.
Whilst the works are simple creations born from pencil on paper, Landy leaves no stone unturned, creating light, calm and gentle portraits which are evidence of the his engagement with portraiture and his superior and perhaps often wasted skills as a draughtsman.