The Face of the Artist exhibition at the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts focuses on the work of John Hedgecoe and is a fascinating retrospective of the acclaimed photographer’s work. The exhibition is the first showing of the John Hedgecoe Photography Collection showcases Hedgecoe’s portraits of a number of artists including David Hockney, Francis Bacon and Henry Moore. Hedgecoe’s photographs focus on visual artists, designers, architects, composers and writers. This form of portraiture aims to capture the psychology of these creative figures and depict the environments that inspire their work.
Hedgecoe experiments with silhouettes, light and colour in his portraits in particular the portrait Henry Moore 1984 shows the artist examining his own sculpture and interacting with the space around him. The spotlight put on the creative process by Hedgecoe is subtly juxtaposed by the intimacy of his shots and the rawness of the connection they represent between artist and muse. Similarly his photographs of Robert Buhler and Ruskin Spear painting from life models in their studios serves to create an multi-layered image, as they observe their models so we observe them. The subject of Hedgecoe’s work in this exhibition appears to be the relationship between the artist and their environment. The photographs range from the stern and confrontational as in Sir Stanley Spencer 1957 to jovial snapshots of Terry Frost in Terry Frost 1990 where the brightly coloured lines of clothing reflects the vivid colours he used in his paintings which can be seen in the foreground.
The real highpoint of the exhibition is the way it melds the photographs of the artists themselves with examples of their pieces. For Henry Moore there are examples of his sculptures in the exhibition, Francis Bacon’s photograph is displayed alongside the haunting Sketch for a Portrait of Lisa (1955) and within the photographs themselves are the titans of the fashion world Mary Quant and Zandra Rhodes. Quant in one of her infamous mini-skirts and Rhodes draped in the prints that made her designs in the 1970’s iconic.
A key element to the exhibition and one of the examples of the significance of the Sainsbury Centre and its role in showcasing home-grown UEA talent were the portraits of UEA literary heroes Rose Tremain, Andrew Motion, Angus Wilson and Malcolm Bradbury displayed as part of the exhibition. The collection is a celebration of all forms of creativity and the act of creation itself. Hedgecoe’s work explores and challenges our perceptions of what defines art. The exhibition will be running until the 4th December 2011.