WHAT LIES BE­NEATH

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Living - - ART & MUSIC -

Niall Mac­mona­gle

Son­der

by Peter Bradley Oil on can­vas Cour­tesy of the artist

GAL­WAY-BASED artist Peter Bradley is “drawn to sub­jects that chal­lenge so­ci­etal norms in one way or an­other”, is “cap­ti­vated by a rebel”, and is “pri­mar­ily con­cerned with chal­leng­ing peo­ple’s per­cep­tions of por­trai­ture and peo­ple”.

Son­der, this in­trigu­ingly-named por­trait of spo­ken word artist Feli­cia, whose stage name is Felispeaks and whom he saw per­form at K-fest in Kil­lor­glin, writes “so pas­sion­ately about fem­i­nism, wom­an­hood, iden­tity and Nige­rian cul­ture” that he felt com­pelled to paint her.

The re­sult — this bril­liant por­trait, one of 30 short­listed for this year’s Zurich Por­trait Prize.

“Ob­sessed with gen­der ap­pro­pri­a­tion since I was a small child, be­ing told that some­thing is ‘for girls’ and ‘not for boys’ has stayed with me my whole life.

“Any­one who op­er­ates out­side the gen­der bi­nary is a hero in my eyes.”

As a white, gay man, Bradley couldn’t be more dif­fer­ent to Feli­cia, a black, straight woman and though he has done self-por­traits, says, “I find peo­ple as dif­fer­ent to my­self as pos­si­ble far more in­ter­est­ing” and would “snap up the chance to paint fab­u­lous and iconic Grace Jones or Tilda Swin­ton”.

Meet­ing Feli­cia in Dublin for cof­fee be­gan the creative process.

“I never have a plan for a paint­ing be­fore meet­ing a sub­ject. I don’t re­mem­ber ev­ery­thing we talked about but I re­mem­ber we laughed a lot.”

First, pho­to­graphs, then a se­ries of draw­ings, dig­i­tal com­po­si­tions, fi­nally oil paint for its “ver­sa­til­ity and vi­brancy”.

Re­cently, Bradley had been head­ing in a new di­rec­tion, ex­per­i­ment­ing with paint­ing with oil on a non-por­ous sur­face like per­spex and alu­minium and “it is blow­ing my mind”.

In Son­der, Feli­cia’s gaze and body pos­ture sug­gest strength and con­fi­dence.

The bright, pat­terned shirt, her choice and Feli­cia’s glasses, her dark, lus­trous skin are beau­ti­fully and ex­pertly cap­tured. Bradley de­lib­er­ately chose shadow-cast­ing white cir­cles on green and pur­ple “be­cause I wanted them to be jar­ring on the eye”. That they are suf­fragette colours is “an ap­pro­pri­ate co­in­ci­dence”.

The viewer, says Bradley, “can never fully un­der­stand what it is like to iden­tify as a dif­fer­ent sex, gen­der, sex­u­al­ity, or race, the viewer has to put them­selves in the sub­ject’s shoes to un­der­stand the im­age. But you can al­ways be ac­cept­ing and re­spect­ful”.

Be­liev­ing, with Os­car Wilde, that “A por­trait made with feel­ing tells you as much about the artist as about the sit­ter”, Bradley says that he is “try­ing to un­der­stand the com­plex­i­ties of hu­man so­ci­ety and fig­ur­ing out their place in it.”

If his “qui­etly po­lit­i­cal” work gets peo­ple talk­ing about gen­der, “a sub­ject I find in­cred­i­bly im­por­tant and af­fects us all, then what’s not po­lit­i­cal about that?” And the word son­der? “It per­fectly de­scribes my cur­rent line of re­search in a ‘ live and let live’ kind of way; it means each ran­dom passer-by lives a life as vivid and com­plex as your own — pop­u­lated with their own am­bi­tions, friends, rou­tines, wor­ries and in­her­ent crazi­ness, an epic story that con­tin­ues in­vis­i­bly around you.”

Your own life and the lives of oth­ers are vivid and com­plex.

An in­di­vid­ual, other in­di­vid­u­als, and all cre­at­ing a big­ger pic­ture.

www.peter-bradley.com In­sta­gram: @pe­ter­bradle­yartist Zurich Por­trait Prize at the Na­tional Gallery of Ire­land un­til Jan­uary 13.

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