Popular Practicing Artists

I thought it may be interesting to discuss a few of the artists that interest me. Each has their own style and is prominent in their niche.


I had the chance to view the work of Jonathan Yeo at the ‘From Life’ exhibition at the Royal Academy. His work is finished to a high standard befitting of an artist who operates in the wealthy heart of Chelsea. He works on up to 5 artworks during a day. He achieves the indepth portrayal of his sitters by careful observation and defining tiny details which makes their features unique. It is also important to Jonathan that he interacts with his subject often pulling amusing facial expressions while he works. Sometimes challenges arise due to other circumstances. In one instance the sitter, Tom Hollander, was fattening up to play the part of Dylan Thomas. During the period his portrait was being painted, he underwent a huge change in weight, which obviously altered the sharpness of his features. In the traditional style Jonathan is, in my opinion, one of the most successful because he aims to please. A modern Gainsborough. I do like this work and can see why it is popular, as I discovered the work takes a subtle approach to add an element, not achieved by photography, by adding an insight to the thoughts of his sitter, with a few carefully placed brush strokes suggesting facial expressions. 


I was impressed with the scale of Jenny Saville's painting, one of which was on show at the Royal Academy this December. She is finding new ways of depicting the human bodies. Moving on from her original thickly applied paint technique, her latest works are overplayed drawings finished with dramatic swathes of lines, often in colour. On YouTube, she discusses her fascination with the human form, including plastic surgery techniques and the marks made before operations. Jenny is an artist who courts controversy by showing the human form in ways which to some viewers are unpleasant. Indeed this is emphasised by her recent work depicting hermaphrodites exploring transsexuality.

There has always been a place for this type of art in history. Jenny is carrying on where Lucien Freud left off using powerful human images on an even grander scale. I find the work expressive and see it almost abstract in form. The images I used in my study of Jenny Saville demonstrated to me how it is possible to structure the surface of a body using solid or wide strokes of colour. 

Ellen Altfest.

Ellen was also exhibiting at the Royal Academy at the Life Exhibition. My understanding of her method is that it involves focusing in on minute detail. The painting on show “Butt” depicts a bottom sitting on a stool  painted in an expressive manner. She shows how the pressure applied distorts the shape of the flesh. 

Ellen uses techniques which are related to Jenny Saville but in ways, very different. The paint is used thinly by comparison and other outside elements are introduced to illustrate the reaction between the sitter on their surrounding. The stool in “butt” distorts the physical appearance of the bottom moulding it into shape.

I don't find the work as expressive as Jenny Saville, although her portrait sleeping lies somewhere between Lucian Freud and Jenny Saville. However to me it falls short of both. 


The final artist is another featured at the Royal Academy. Chantal Joffe offers a completely different approach to portraiture. On YouTube she is in conversation with another artist, Stewart Helm. This is in the drawing room collection. She appears as an expressive person who engages in a soft tone, but incorporates her arms to convey her thoughts .

Initial impressions, Chantal’s work hits you with its apparent childish simplicity. This combined with the huge scale of her work with pieces up to 10 feet tall, presents a powerful image. Her subjects are mainly adults and children.

I would imagine that if this were my work it may be frowned upon and seen as naive. The powers that have a say in the artworks see it in different eyes and awards after award have been given for her work.

Chantal continues a tradition made popular by Frank Auerbach since the 50’s.

I have chosen a selection of work from my chosen artists to discuss in more detail. I don't have permission to include the images. Sourcing them on the web should be easy.

Jonathan Yeo

Michael Parkinson. 91cm x 69cm

Jonathan's painting of the famous TV interviewer explores the character of the sitter. Every crease in Mr Parkinson's face has a story to tell. He has interviewed some of the most famous characters in history and his face is one of knowledge and confidence. His slight smile guides us towards his sense of humour. And the inclusion of his jacket informs us of his classy presentation .

The painting is constructed using a variation of brush strokes to form facial contours. The overall tone of the paint is a calm brown and taupe blend.

It is a very professional execution of a popular celebrity.

Jonathan Yeo

Tom Hollander. 91cm x 68 cm

This portrait was the subject of a documentary called ‘A portrait of Jonathan Yeo’ on the culture show. Jonathan and Tom are long standing friends and this shone through as the portrait began in a very relaxed atmosphere. The knowledge of Tom’s personality allowed Jonathan to portray a personality beyond photography. During the process, Tom was looking forward to playing the part of Dylan Thomas. This required a large weight gain, causing subtle feature changes which had to be overcome. 

The final piece showed a confident subject who is versatile. A deep forehead being a sign of knowledge. With his neutral clothing not tying him down to one type of character.

One of Jonathan's finest pieces.

Ellen Altfest  24 x15 inches

‘The Butt’. This painting depicts the lower back and upper backside of the sitter. Careful attention has been paid to the way the flesh and fat spread to take the weight of the body and form a cushion to make sitting more comfortable. The seat in the painting is carefully detailed.

In discussion with Michael Prodger, in a book made to accompany the Royal Academy exhibition “from life”, she describes how she becomes so immersed in the abstract element of the painting that she forgets about the body part she is painting.

Quote available - “I’m very absorbed, involved”, she says. “I’m trying to push the painting”.

Ellen Altfest

Sleeping man  15 x 17 inches

This image depicts a reclining man. It is one in a series depicting the male nude. Sleeping man is a highly detailed study which is almost hyper-real, although it is very different from a photograph. The detail extends to the carefully painted silk material on which he lies. Each hair is painted individually with no attempt to take a shortcut and paint the area with a single brushstroke. The drawing is faultless and must have been time consuming. Overall it is the art of portraiture taking it to a very detailed level. Not trying to please the viewer in any false way.

Jenny Saville

Entry  96 x 75 inches

This is a large-scale work is a graphic depiction of a dead woman who appears to have an entry wound on her face possibly, a bullet wound. It is deliberately disturbing. Although painted with a heavy thick paint technique, it is almost photographic. Part of a series of paintings, including several dead forms, the sinister cold feeling is highlighted with a pale dull blue like a bruise colour. And they may well be bruises on the subject.

Never destined to hang on a lounge wall, it is a classic Jenny Saville, beautifully depicting a gory subject.


Stare  99 x73 inches

A Jenny Saville large-scale artwork. A child's face is portrayed on a huge scale. Every feature, from the heavy lips slightly deformed, to the lifeless eyes, are clearly defined using heavy brush strokes. The image leaves us wondering if there is any life behind the eyes.

Another thought provoking painting which conveys a unique approach to portraiture .


Ivana  9 x 11.9 inches

This is a small scale work from 2015 in oil depicting a lady leaning on her hand. The influences for this piece were Degas and Manet. The block colours around the subject allow you to concern taste on the subject's expression. She is obviously relaxed. The contrast between her jumper and her hair is carefully thought out. The jumper is a mature choice bottle green. The blonde hair long suggests a young lady, so someone not too old with a mature personality.

Although depicted in a naive manner, this painting is carefully thought out and well executed using minimal brush strokes on a small scale.


Red hair on Ochre  15 x 13 inches

The title is a good description of the image. Painted in 2012, and also influenced by the French masters, Degas and Manet Chantal, uses a colourful, yet neutral background to allow the viewer to concentrate their attention on the young girl with striking red hair. The clothing appears light in weight suggested by a light colour.

Thickly painted in her minimum stroke style, the contrasting colour forms one of Chantal’s most pleasing images.

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