Graves Gallery describes Heads Roll as an exhibition of works that explore and challenge the preconceptions of portraiture. But how do you bring a fresh approach to a genre with such a vast history and avoid repeating the same old, conservative takes on this historical format?
One way that the exhibition’s curator, artist Paul Morrison, explores is to pull together a wide variety of contemporary artworks and place them amongst a selection of pieces belonging to Museums Sheffield spanning the last 400 years. Morrison also chooses to include less figurative portrayals of the human body, as well as works that are suggestive of the portrait in more nuanced and abstracted ways.
Particular highlights include a small linocut work by Sheffield-based artist Bede Robinson. Robinson’s work employs traditional techniques and making processes while referring to contemporary subjects such as the strength of the internet’s influence on society and the mainstream media’s coverage of popular culture. A large painting by the renowned artist Glenn Brown hangs in the centre of the far wall, always in view, like an alter piece encouraging artistic pilgrimage towards the rear of the gallery. The standout piece comes in the form of a wall drawing by Jessica Diamond, whose work often explores themes of anti-commercialism, society and sexuality. Her text across the wall reads like a short poem: “O small small head, beautiful brown bead, pink white orb, speak!” It encourages audiences to engage with the work and with one another, and its inclusion here highlights the many diffferent approaches artists take to investigate and manipulate the traditions of portraiture.