Art and Power

661

Within the collection of the National Portrait Gallery there is a not overly large, (4ft x 3ft), painting in oil of Tony Blair by Alistair Adams, which was commissioned by the Trustees of the gallery in 2013. The canvas is filled with just the depiction of Blair’s face. In other words there is no need for superfluous visual clues as to who this person is, or what he does; they are not required.

Tony Blair is apparently well-known for looking people directly in the eye when engaged in conversation and it is his gaze in the portrait that holds your attention, but there is something else too. Art is subjective, of course, and I’m not talking about political preference but rather purely historically, when I say that to my mind the portrait speaks of the ravages of power.

We remember New Labour, a new all-singing, all-dancing Labour – a strange cocktail of blended private education, enthusiastic youth, a dash of ‘Power behind the Throne’ and a squeeze of philanthropy poured over crushed Trade Union ice all served with a tiny piece of Conservative type-peel and garnished with a ‘Cool Britannia’ paper parasol. It tasted sweet and was the toast to the future, but there was too much salt on the rim of the glass and the resulting aftertaste was bitter and very unpleasant. The rest is history, our living history. In years to come I wonder how the portrait will be seen in the context of this well documented era.

Classical art has been masterful in its depiction of power, a pictorially proud power, heroic stances swathed in the trappings of wealth and success or accompanied by the symbols of education, religion and heroism.

Yet with this portrait there is no paraphernalia alluding to status or accomplishment. There is certainly no avoiding the gaze of Tony Blair, and the more you look the more you see in this up-close and personal portrait. Captured to perfection in one eye a grim determination and self-belief in the other, fragility maybe, some creeping doubt as his mouth is poised to speak.

We can choose to read the portrait as we will. For me, this is an image of the burden of power. As history moves on, the sitter is suspended in time, accompanied only by the eternal residue of past decisions and their effects on not only the United Kingdom but the world.

What do you think? – GG.

Within the collection of the National Portrait Gallery there is a not overly large, (4ft x 3ft), painting in oil of Tony Blair by Alistair Adams, which was commissioned by the Trustees of the gallery in 2013. The canvas is filled with just the depiction of Blair’s face. In other words there is no need for superfluous visual clues as to who this person is, or what he does; they are not required.

Tony Blair is apparently well-known for looking people directly in the eye when engaged in conversation and it is his gaze in the portrait that holds your attention, but there is something else too. Art is subjective, of course, and I’m not talking about political preference but rather purely historically, when I say that to my mind the portrait speaks of the ravages of power.

We remember New Labour, a new all-singing, all-dancing Labour – a strange cocktail of blended private education, enthusiastic youth, a dash of ‘Power behind the Throne’ and a squeeze of philanthropy poured over crushed Trade Union ice all served with a tiny piece of Conservative type-peel and garnished with a ‘Cool Britannia’ paper parasol. It tasted sweet and was the toast to the future, but there was too much salt on the rim of the glass and the resulting aftertaste was bitter and very unpleasant. The rest is history, our living history. In years to come I wonder how the portrait will be seen in the context of this well documented era.

Classical art has been masterful in its depiction of power, a pictorially proud power, heroic stances swathed in the trappings of wealth and success or accompanied by the symbols of education, religion and heroism.

Yet with this portrait there is no paraphernalia alluding to status or accomplishment. There is certainly no avoiding the gaze of Tony Blair, and the more you look the more you see in this up-close and personal portrait. Captured to perfection in one eye a grim determination and self-belief in the other, fragility maybe, some creeping doubt as his mouth is poised to speak.

We can choose to read the portrait as we will. For me, this is an image of the burden of power. As history moves on, the sitter is suspended in time, accompanied only by the eternal residue of past decisions and their effects on not only the United Kingdom but the world.

What do you think? – GG.