Excerpt from an essay by
The human head, and specifically his own, has been Tony Bevan’s most obsessive subject during the 90’s, endlessly rephrased and reinvented on a colossal scale that allows the viewer no escape from the confrontation. Of all the images at the disposal of a figurative artist it is the one with the greatest potential of speaking of the human spirit and the full range of emotions. As the most immediately recognizable to us all – going back to one’s infancy, with the comforting presences of the looming fractures of one’s parents and siblings – the face is also the motif with which the greatest liberties can be taken without becoming indecipherable or loosing identity.
Since the mid-1990’s Bevan has taken increasing advantage of his recognition factor to push his art to abstraction, investigating the lengths to which he can subject his representations of heads to brutal deformation or extreme simplification while at all time maintaining the legibility of the image and the viewer’s emotive and visceral identification with it. In a number of these recent paintings, the head is viewed from angles at which it would rarely be encountered in the ordinary course of events. In the most extreme cases it is seen from immediately below, so that one’s gaze is met by the line of the neck and chin and by the flared nostrils of a nose jutting upwards into the air; Bevan refers to the resulting structure as resembling a bridge, but if one is to see it in landscape terms it could just as easily be taken from a boulder or even a mountain since there are no explicit markers by which to judge the scale enlarged to monumental proportions, so that the single image is almost as large as an entire person, and almost carved out of the surface in deeply-etched black charcoal or chalk-red outlines that map the contours of the face but also cover its surface in a network of scarification, the head is transformed in a powerful presence. Yet even when it looks most unfamiliar, even when the flattening of the nose or reshaping of the cranium threatens to pull it apart or deform it into a grotesque, there remains no doubt about what it represents.
In The Spirit Beneath The Skin
1998 © Marco Livingstone