Lorna May Wadsworth (b. 1979 -)
Pink Christ, 2011
Acrylic, two shades of 23 carat gold and oil on panel
40cm x 32.5cm
On loan from the artist
Christ’s arresting stare is at once powerful and quietly moving in this remarkable reimagining of one of the pivotal moments in the crucifixion narrative. In Pink Christ, we meet Jesus in the very midst of his torments: betrayed, delivered to the authorities and condemned to death, the torture he endures at the hands of Pontius Pilate’s soldiers includes a mock-crowning with a woven wreath of thorns. This biblical event formed the basis of a popular devotional image known as Ecce Homo, or ‘Behold the Man’, the words said to have been uttered by Pilate when he presented the scourged Christ before a hostile crowd of onlookers. While some imaginings of this scene show Jesus amidst his tormentors, Wadsworth’s rendering, in a manner more reminiscent of the Baroque Ecce Homo paintings of Guido Reni, abstracts Christ’s head, presenting a stark, intimate window into this heightened moment of pain and suffering. In Pink Christ Wadsworth pushes the concept of abstraction to the fore, utilising pink to flood the background of the painting, removing Christ from his crowd of tormentors and placing him instead in a sea of fluorescent paint. Perhaps most striking of all is Christ’s expression, inscrutable as much as it is powerful. Unlike the Jesus of A Last Supper, this Christ is not passively serene in the face of anguish and torment. That he feels deeply is conveyed in the directness of his gaze, the rigidness of his hard-set jaw; yet how this Jesus feels as he is mocked and left debased is indecipherable. Pink Christ leaves us guessing.
Colour is an important motif throughout Pink Christ. “Fluorescent pink started to seep into my work as a kind of punk variation on the warm red boule you traditionally use underneath gilded gold leaf”, Wadsworth explains. “I have also explored using fluorescent colours in place of gold as a modern interpretation of an icon painting – the colour glows and silhouettes the subject somewhat, like gold leaf does.” Though gold does not feature as a traditional background, it is wrought instead, in two shades of 23 carat gold, into the crown hovering like a halo over Christ’s head. As a masterful play on traditional materials, technique and symbolism, Pink Christ is a truly modern icon.
(Dr Sophie Kelly)
Born in Sheffield, Lorna May Wadsworth now operates from her studio in East London. She rose to prominence in the contemporary art world before graduating from Falmouth College of Art, with a series of notable works, including portraits of the Right Honourable, Lord David Blunkett and the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams.
One of her most acclaimed works, a monumental portrait of the late Baroness Margaret Thatcher, was completed from five life sittings. The resultant painting is one of the most commanding and respected formal portraits of a modern British Prime Minister.
Throughout her career, Wadsworth has continually challenged the portrait tradition and a recurrent theme throughout her work is the inversion of the gendered gaze. The canon of Western art has invariably favoured the female subject seen through the eyes of the male artist. In her series Beautiful Boys, Wadsworth transfers the power balance, so that she holds the gaze of the male subject and places him on display for all to see.
A recent retrospective of her work, held at Graves Gallery in her home city of Sheffield, brought together her most celebrated works for the first time, including her contemporary interpretation of Leonardo’s Last Supper fresco in Santa Maria delle Grazie in Milan. Other highlights from her 25-year career include her dazzling portraits of such celebrated sitters as actors Michael Sheen, David Tennant and Sir Derek Jacobi, best-selling author Neil Gaiman, award-winning film maker Richard Curtis and another former Prime Minister, the Right Honourable Tony Blair.