Justin Mortimer has been at the forefront of British painting for nearly 20 years however its process through collage that really interests me.
Mortimer first came to public attention when he won the National Gallery’s BP Portrait Award in 1991.He was subsequently given a number of important commissions to paint well known public figures including Harold Pinter, David Bowie, Sir Steven Redgrave and most controversially his portrait of Queen Elizabeth II in which he showed the Queen’s head separated from her body. In the last number of years his work has taken on the more difficult subjects of war, disease, barbarism and death his subjects often placed in environments that have borne witness to conflict or human vulnerability.
To make these paintings Mortimer uses collage as a key step towards the finished composition. Before he begins painting he creates a composite image from photos found on the internet, personal pictures as well as from historical documents and medical textbooks. This use of the collage process allows Mortimer to play with perspective, give an added dimension to the studies for his work. The result are figurative paintings that lie somewhere between reality and the subconscious. Here’s how he puts it:
Before starting a painting I make a digital collage, cutting and pasting scanned and/or uploaded photographs. This first ‘plan’ is scaled up and painted onto the canvas. Then, by a continual process of altering and overlaying subsequent redrafts onto the painting, I am encouraging the unanticipated visual collisions that amplify underlying themes and emotive content, so easily neglected in the preliminary ‘mock up’ and muddied by the mundane routines of representation.
For example disused military structures, derelict wastelands and TB Sanatoria have all figured in my paintings. They are psychological spaces as much as real places; the paranoid landscape. The figures are frequently truncated; nearly always faceless. This is not to depict literal dismemberment, but rather to augment the disconnected, anxious tension between themselves, their bodies and immediate surroundings. Similarly in my portraits, sitters are choreographed (by use of compositional imbalance and cropping, choice of colour and gesture), to enhance their unspoken, inner dialogue.
I’ve decided to show you both his collage studies and a few paintings to give you an idea of this process, the steps Mortimer takes to achieve his magnificent compositions.