Whitebox Art Center is pleased to present FAME, an exhibition of paintings by Robert Priseman, on view through January 26. FAME brings together 70 haunting portraits of some of the 20th century’s most famous celebrities known for their tragic, premature deaths. Rather than use blank canvases, Priseman paints the portraits over miniature antique Christian icons that he purchases through online auctions on e-bay. Collectively, the images pose the question: what does it mean to be famous, to be iconic, in today’s society?
FAME both literalizes and deconstructs the notion that celebrity has replaced religion, drawing parallels between the immediacy of tabloid culture in the internet age, and the perceived presence and efficacy of the holy figures evoked in the icons. Priseman’s process of painting modern stars over ancient saints is also an act of effacement as much as it is one of substitution, a gesture that suggests “a simultaneous derituralising and remooring of religiosity” in the form of today’s celebrity culture, according to Michael Bailey of the University of Essex.
Priseman began his career as a portraitist, and eventually developed an interest in man-made interior spaces, particularly those associated with trauma. In a series of etchings entitled Modern Means of Execution and paintings entitled American Execution (both 2007-2008), Priseman depicted execution chambers, electric chairs and gurneys in precise detail and glowing color, all empty of human presence, but charged with the traces of past violence and the potential for more. FAME unites Priseman’s continuing exploration of death and memory with his ongoing interest in portraiture. The resulting body of work constitutes a moving contemplation of spirituality, fantasy and mortality in contemporary popular culture.
Robert Priseman has participated in the recent exhibitions, Francis Bacon to Paula Rego, a survey of British painting from the last 50 years at Abbot Hall Art Gallery (2012), and New East Anglian Painting at the Ipswich Art Museum (2012). He was included in curator Michael Peppiat’s recent publication, Interviews with Artists 1966-2012 (Yale University Press, 2012). Priseman’s work is held in a number of international collections, including the Museum der Moderne Salzburg, The Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, Musée de Louvain la Neuve, The Mead Art Museum, The Royal Collection, The Wellcome Collection, the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Swindon Art Gallery, and the Schneider Museum of Art. Born in Derbyshire, UK, he studied Aesthetics and Art Theory at the University of Essex.
FAME is curated by Tony Guerrero, Executive and Artistic Director of Whitebox Art Center. The exhibition issponsored by Elena Dranichnikova, Andrew McGrahan, Shona McGrahan, Ally Seabrook and Eliza Kentridge.