Most of us know that the Graves Gallery sits on top of the fountain of knowledge that is Sheffield Central Library. I lived in Sheffield for years before someone told me, and sometimes I can’t help but wonder how many great exhibitions I missed. Some of the ones I’ve seen since have made up for this lost time though. And Portraiture and the Human Figure is no exception.
When walking into the gallery, I’m surrounded by images that make the very rectangular room feel like a circle, or the inside of a red envelope full of love letters to bodies. It feels like the exhibition doesn’t discriminate between artistic mediums. Drawings, paintings, photographs and sculptures are sprinkled generously around the room. It’s a great way of arranging an exhibition that is so explicitly about the diversity of human bodies and experience. Though there are some small sections exclusive to some mediums in certain corners, it’s generally a mix. This encourages us to get lost in and through the art and reminds us that we’re supposed to treat each piece equally. That’s hard to do though, because we’ll all have our favourites. One for me is a life-size sculpture of a woman’s body that really reminds me where I am. It tells me this exhibition is a celebration of being, making and looking. Legends like David Hockney and Anne Rothenstein, Sheffield local Glenn Herbert, the iconic Mary Adshead, the thought-provoking talent that is Nahem Shoa, and famous pop-artist Richard Hamilton all feature – and all offer something different and exciting.