DOUBLE EXPOSURE One dramatic painting likely to dominate ‘Nerves Upon a Screen’, the latest exhibition at the Alex Proud Galleries, is a little over life-size portrait of the late Anthony Newley. Seated in a chair in character as Ebenezer Scrooge, the actor is depicted on a six by four foot canvas in his last stage role - a Dickensian miser which he played so brilliantly with all the broad theatrical brushstrokes of Victorian melodrama. It's a mesmeric multi-levelled portrait capturing both a star performer in a stellar performance and the man beneath the greasepaint when the roar of the crowd has died down. The image is all the more remarkable because it was painted just a year ago by Newley's son, Sacha. "It's not the first time I have painted an actor in character. I've also painted Nigel Hawthorne as the mad King George III. I like the idea of the double layer. On the one hand you are painting the person underneath and on the other the surface character they are playing, so it gives an extra level of depth to the portrait." His father's portrait hangs amongst 15 paintings and some 30 works on paper in the exhibition, which also includes some of Sacha Newley's latest abstract works, fusing abstract geometrical imagery with figurative ideas, and a series of self-portraits and religious pictures, which Newley says draw on his fascination with the iconography of Christianity and Buddhism. Psychological profiles, abstract imaging and pioneering paint techniques are all brought together in this extraordinary collection which certainly lives up to its title, taken from T.S. Eliot's 'The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock'. "There's a moment in the poem when the protagonist is desperate to try and get himself across and feels that he will never be able to do that: It is impossible to say exactly what I mean/But as if a magic lantern threw the nerves in patterns upon a screen… "It's a last ditch attempt to communicate by throwing the structure of his brain on a screen so that people can see it. He's tired of words, he's tired of all the second-hand attempts to communicate, and in a way I think the pictures have that desperation to communicate. Like Eliot, Newley uses seemingly random transitions in an attempt to express what is going on in his subject's mind. His sitters have included Billy Wilder, Gore Vidal and film director Oliver Stone. His aim, he says, is to interpret these people from the inside out. "I'd always painted. As a little boy I was always passionate about painting. At the age of 18 or 19 I began to take it more seriously and to realise that it was my career. Home was always a hot house of artistic goings on because both my parents were enormously creative people. Dad was very encouraging. He also painted and did some smashing self-portraits.” But what is the attraction of men like Wilder and Vidal? "They are geniuses. It's fascinating to discover what makes them tick. Gore is an exceptional, many-layered personality and Billy has given us some of the greatest films of the century.”
Roger Foss What’s on in London, May 1999
Roger Foss - May 1999 "Double Exposure"