16th June - 16th July 2022
Peter Hallam: Solo Show of Portraits at the Heriot Gallery
‘What fascinates me much, much more than anything else, is the modern portrait.
I should like to do portraits which will appear as revelations to people in 100 years' time." Vincent van Gogh
From the Mona Lisa to Warhol’s Marilyn Monroe, the human face has been an enduring, enigmatic subject for artists and in photography from The Afgan Girl to the Selfie craze on #Insta/Snapchat. Without a face, there can be no portrait, without a face there can be no human contact.
Working as a professional, award-winning artist for more than twenty years, Peter Hallam specialises in a distinctive and dramatic style of figurative art. He has exhibited across the UK and USA, including recent sell out shows at the Biscuit Factory, Newcastle and Heriot Gallery, Edinburgh.
The inspiration comes from observing people, many based on those he has met or just seen on his travels, although he does not work from photographs, to create quirky, colourful characters. For instance, we are introduced to The Cake Maker, a rather severe young lady with intense green eyes in a figure hugging red dress, her dark hair cut in a bob with flicked up curls and rosebud pink lips. This fresh, imaginative approach to portraiture may be based on the fact that he decided to leave Art College after just a few weeks:
“ I don’t think I fitted in and being self-taught has probably allowed me to develop my own style unhindered.” - Peter Hallam
He therefore followed the same freewheeling route as several of the world’s most influential and successful artists, past and present – Henri Rousseau, Vincent Van Gogh, Frida Kahlo and Jack Vettriano – all of whom did not have formal academic training. These sassy, surreal portraits are so expressive, oozing individual personalities, smart fashion sense and an underlying narrative. One is immediately intrigued by The Delicate Girl, whose sly, sideways glance – surprise, fear? - captures a dramatic moment with such simplicity. With her slender face and quiet sense of vulnerability, she is reminiscent of Modigliani’s
modern women (e.g. Portrait of Lunia Czechowska with a Fan).
His signature style depicts elongated bodies, posing languidly with a blank expression. Likewise, Hallam’s gentlemen are cool and confident in mode and manner, an elegant nose, piercing eyes with an unapologetic stare giving an aristocratic air of importance. Here we are introduced to a very dapper man with grape-green eyes in a pink jacket Strolling through the Streets of Paris. Rather vivacious in a velvet jacket is either an actor or drama critic
On Broadway, who in company with the sallow-skinned, tailored Translucent Man, reflects the typical Selfie pose (akin to social media Influencers), proud and aloof, with a slight smirk and deep in thought. There is something about these charming characters, a glint in the eye, full of mischief and energy, reminiscent of vintage comic books such as ‘Hergé's Adventures of Tintin’. Perhaps the haughty, high-bred Lady Pearl or the snapshot of The Family
(what is the mother whispering to the father?), could step out of the frame to star in an Animation movie.
‘I think my style has evolved over time. I love colour. The more I paint, the more I understand how to paint and the better I get. I never stop learning and developing my art.’ - Peter Hallam
Experimentation has been part of this artistic journey, such as sculpted, sharp lines of cheek, jaw and forehead, deconstructing facial form and shape to reveal a hidden personality, as seen in the androgynous figure in Ethereal. Francis Bacon considered Picasso’s Cubist portraits as coming closer than anyone to “the core of what feeling is about.”
The portrayal of the human likeness, focusing on the face, expressive gesture, mood and soulful emotion is the art of humanity. There is an element of Caricature here too – an imitation of a person in which certain facial traits are exaggerated for comic or satirical effect. With just a hint of parody, Hallam has created a unique, iconic style of portraiture, blending gentle humour with inspirational, aesthetic pleasure. Walking around the Heriot Gallery to view this solo show of portraits may feel like being invited to a cocktail party with a delightful, diverse group of guests; they all appear so animated as if we could engage in conversation for a lively chat: theatrical, amusing, thoughtful and romantic– they certainly make you smile.