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Face Value II

Words by Reuben Woods - 11 September 2019
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Portraiture has long anchored artistic tradition, attempting to capture and explore individual and collective likenesses (often of distinguished note, but by no means exclusively so). Often portrait artists have attempted to represent specific features and qualities of people in an effort to not just produce a fitting likeness, but to reveal deeper psychological truths, cataloguing the existence of the sitter for posterity. Of course, this is a singular take on a genre that has expanded along with all artistic practices, both as a result of stylistic, technological and conceptual barriers being gatecrashed, and Face Value represents an exploration of portraiture as a many faceted process.

Of course, faces, human and otherwise, remain a central motif across the artistic divide, and Face Value reflects this attraction within artists from urban art and illustration. This is not an accident, these apporaches reveal an interesting take on the depiction of faces. Street artists have long favoured faces due to the instant connection felt between the unsuspecting audience and the image. Likewise, artists with backgrounds in commercial illustration and design often seek a universal quality in characters, again to reach a certain connection with an audience. In both cases, these types of artists are more concerned with the way a face can serve as an icon, revealing universal truths, or at least asking universal questions, turning the conceit away from the subject and onto the viewer. As such, the face becomes a vessel for artists to investigate aspects of humanity, not individuals, whether the image depicts a real person or not.

Face Value explores the way a face can mean different things for different artists, highlighting the variety that such a subject presents. From the representational to the fantastical, each artist included is drawn to the face for a particular reason, some unique, some shared, but each worth considering. Other artists depict familiar faces, icons of popular culture who have become instantly recognisable and yet present different responses from different viewers. Other figures may be less recognisable, but nevertheless are rooted in the real world, introducing the subject and viewer to grow comfortable with each other, even without meeting in the flesh. Other artists juxtapose faces with inanimate objects, or pair them off with other compositional elements, adding outside influences to our readings.

Like the experience of meeting new people, Face Value allows you to be surrounded and self-aware, to make friends and to be ignored. The ability to make various narratives and connections between these works is unlimited, largely due to the potential suggested by coming literally face to face with a depicted figure, each with a unique narrative, some forcing the viewer to look inwards, others encouraging them to be more aware of the people we meet. Indeed, if a picture tells a thousand words, what value can put on a face?