In 2007 British artist Jonathan Yeo caused quite the stir. After an invitation from the White House to paint a portrait of George W. Bush was rescinded, Yeo forged ahead anyway, creating a collage constructed entirely of cutouts from pornographic magazines. Closer inspection of the then U.S. president’s solemn expression—lips pursed, gazing upward—revealed subtle gradations in flesh tone that gave way to phalli and other sexually explicit content. Beyond Yeo’s wry wink lay a discomfiting look at media, power, sex, and hypocrisy that continues to imbue his work.
The presidential portrait drew more than just gasps and smothered giggles. It initiated a new phase in Yeo’s portraiture and a foray into experimental printmaking techniques. Lazarides has selected some of the artist’s most salient examples for its inauguration of Lazarides Editions, a dedicated space and platform for fine art prints. The show, “Jonathan Yeo: The Print Retrospective,” reunites over 30 of the artist’s limited editions, from never-before-seen portraits to prints created especially for the retrospective, including an exclusive, hand-finished monograph. The new exhibition space opens on London’s South Bank and is accompanied by the launch of a printing studio and an online store.
Power has always been predicated, at least in part, on image. The Romans understood that recognizability is its own currency when Cesar printed his likeness on coins. Yeo is no stranger such visual power-brokering. He has painted portraits of everyone from David Cameron and Tony Blair to Grayson Perry and Dennis Hopper. A self-taught artist who learned to draw while recovering from a serious illness in his early 20s, Yeo’s works—as the deeply personal accumulation of intimate moments shared with his sitters—seek to capture something beyond the instantaneity of photography. If his portraits seize on the ineffability of life they are also a testament to its fragility. “Jonathan Yeo: The Print Retrospective” asks what impressions will remain, long after sitter and artist are both gone.
“Jonathan Yeo: The Print Retrospective” is on view at Lazarides Editions, London, Nov. 20–Dec. 20, 2014.