Portrait of the Artist

Dale Webster - UK/Kenya

“My career in Art and Design began at art school as a student and ended at art school as a lecturer in Art History. In between time, my undergraduate, post graduate, and teaching experience was in Philosophy and Art History at various colleges and universities, until I came to Kenya. I brought with me a painting project, taking as subject the extraordinary people of this country.

So what is it with portraits, or rather pictures, of people? They are the sometime second-raters in the art hierarchy, partly, it seems, because they are so often assessed by the strength of verisimilitude. The more they look like the subject, the better (whatever that means, some sort of doppelganger perhaps), and this is such an unfashionable criterion.

Art history categorises subjects as types, or genres: Landscapes (deep space), Still Life (shallow space), Abstraction (internal space!), and so on. And these subjects do resonate with our experience, but for me, I think that one type of subject carries a particular significance.

The history of portrait painting is a history of images of people much like ourselves, our appearance at a particular time, what we have done with our lives, our interests and ambitions, thoughts and emotions. They are images which for the most part try to show us what we are like, not so much what we look like. This, of course, has huge importance as a subject to represent, because our encounters with each other constitute the most significant elements of our experience.

It’s through these encounters that we are able to think, to communicate and to love. It’s this that compels me as a subject, and in the portraits in this exhibition, the intimate gaze of the artist upon the world holds a very special reflexive significance. The artist’s gaze is directed at ourselves.”