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Humphrey Ocean: A Handbook Of Modern Life
A display of 40 works by British artist Humphrey Ocean painted in gouache on paper comprising colourful portraits of visitors to his south London studio, produced since 2006. The sitters include family members and friends.
Humphrey Ocean RA has a long association with the National Portrait Gallery, which began in 1982 when he won the Gallery’s annual Portrait Prize with the painting Lord Volvo and his Estate. Ocean has undertaken several commissions for the Gallery including portraits of Paul McCartney (1982), the poet Philip Larkin (1984) and Tony Benn (1996). In The Painter’s Eye at the National Portrait Gallery in 1999, Humphrey Ocean and film-maker John Tchalenko, with whom he has often collaborated, exhibited work from their Wellcome Trust Art and Science project. For the final room of the exhibition Ocean borrowed portraits by Rembrandt, Warhol, Auerbach and Gwen John.
A Handbook Of Modern Life has an obsessive character that is compelling and, when seen together, the portraits are an exuberant display of the artist’s love of painting, colour and people. The immediacy of the gouache medium allows Ocean to capture quickly his sitters in simple forms, yet with striking presence. The majority of portraits on display show the sitter seated, yet each has a real sense of vitality and vibrancy that extends beyond the stillness of the pose.
Although the sitters have shared the experience, the unique quality of each portrait is a reflection of the way the artist and sitter responded to each other during the short period of the sitting. Ocean has attempted to paint what he saw in the studio that day; a portrait of the moment, not based on an accumulation of knowledge of the sitter. This was particularly challenging when his sitters included his daughters and wife.
Held in rooms 41 and 41a
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Venue: National Portrait Gallery
→ Charing Cross 6 min walk
→ Charing Cross 3 min walk
→ Leicester Square 3 min walk