Gollon at 60 – Self Portraits


Gollon at 60 — an exhibition of self portraits in 2013 at  IAP Fine Art, London SW1


Over 20 years of representing Chris Gollon, IAP Fine Art had exhibited only very few self portraits. As Chris Gollon turned 60 that year, to celebrate the event he thought he would do a series of paintings of his favourite subject: himself.  He had taken another look at Expressionism, the subject of which is the Self, or oneself. All Expressionist art is subjective, in which is shown the inner self of the artist. It is immediately obvious Gollon’s self portraits are not a photographic likeness, but simply Gollon working with himself, his own ego and a mirror. This is not an exercise in vanity; but along with artists of varying styles such as Max Beckmann and Rembrandt, it is an interest in and an attempt to see one’s own self or soul. Moreover, as Sister Wendy Beckett notes (in her excellent book on Beckmann & The Self), when great artists do penetrate to see their souls, it helps us see our own.

Many of Gollon’s later self portraits are quite startling, giving the sense of the artist suddenly walking into the room, and are full of life and tension. Because at the time he was embarking on a major new work ‘And It Came To Pass’, which was not a portrait and was to be over 40ft (12m) long, he had to clear his studio considerably. This lead to a wonderful discovery of some self portraits he had held back for himself, but since forgotten. Therefore, IAP Fine Art in this exhibition was suddenly also able to show self portraits from age 26 through to age 60. This allows the spectator to see not only the ageing process in action, but also Chris Gollon’s changes in style and technique over a long span of time. In the 1970s, for example, Gollon decided against taking the road of Freud and Auerbach in oil and heavy texture; but instead used acrylic mixed with detergent on unprimed duck canvas, following the American painters of the 1950s, since this technique has a matt beauty and expresses colour and form so well, and seeps unevenly into the canvas. In these early works Gollon began the under-painting in yellow ochre, working from light to dark. However, in the last 15-20 years he instead opted to start with black gesso on acrylic primed canvases and work from dark to light, as you can see in films of him painting, click Films. The Gollon at 60 exhibition showed the development of an artist in acrylic painting over 40 years, and to the very height of his powers, where he had totally mastered the medium and innovated it considerably, with Old Master techniques like glazing, and even importing printmaking techniques from his experience with monotypes.