All the King's Men
November 4-29, 2003
But what of these photographs? Do they reflect in any way, the penetrating psychological studies of two celebrated British subjects, or are they simply a triumph, a veritable parade of male vanity in the tradition of the old fashioned boardroom portrait? Well, in essence, they are both. The Livingstones are variously casual and upright. All bar one, holding (by touch or by grip!) a big, mock rhinoceros horn neatly between their legs! They are proud with/in their coercion. Not playful subjects really, but dignified and strong. Meantime, Ms Dawson has fussed around their jackets and tie, arranged hair, and groomed whiskers (moustache & sideboards) that she has pre-fashioned lovingly from binder-twine.
Nine of the portraits have not even been fixed! Livingstone as an ever-changing subject may disappear before our very eyes! We glimpse but fleeting moments of his multiple self: classical; colonial; and ephemeral.
The Russells are different. They grapple with notebook and pipe. Their brow furrowed and concentrated, is focused upon a pencil, the quick capture of an idea. No time to gaze at us, to look down or even through us. Work is not only still to be done - it is being done. While the bust of Voltaire keeps a quiet eye on things, on progress perhaps. I chuckle - make a note of the (natural) pipe-smokers. And wipe my brow.
Margaret Dawson's appropriations from art history have always been quirky. In "The Men From Uncle", the artist's uncle, Hugh posed as many men - and even as Greta Gabo. In this series, the many are posited as one. (Sorry, two.)
The idiosyncracy of person alongside their public face, the notion of private framed by portrait, is taken to new heights here.The work is beautiful and very formal in presentation. Absolutely straight. Its affect however, is mighty weird, hilarious, and wonderfully strange.
1. Bertrand Russell #14
2. David Livingstone #10-20
3. David Livingstone #18
4. David Livingstone #8
All works are framed silver gelatin photographs, dry mounted on to archival board.