For the first time ever a show at the National Portrait Gallery in London contains no human faces. Jack Smith: Abstract Portraits which opened late last week is the first exhibition in the gallery’s 159-year history that includes no figurative portraits as Smith’s work is made up of abstract shapes and colours. Of course there’s nothing new about the idea of a portrait being something other than a traditional head and shoulders painting, but it is noteworthy that one of London’s leading galleries should take such a decisive step.
Paul Poorhouse, the gallery’s curator of 20th Century Portraiture said: “These paintings take the Gallery’s Interventions series one step further, not only presenting an unconventional approach to portraiture but, in this case, raising a provocative question: is a person’s appearance a necessary constituent of portraiture or are there are other ways of evoking a human presence?”
Smith was a part of the so-called Kitchen Sink school of British post-war painters and worked up until his death in 2011. The show runs until 31 August.