Symposium: a conference to discuss a particular subject, or a convivial drinking party, as held in ancient Greece.
Visiting the Heriot Gallery to view Peter Hallam’s quirky collection of portraits, it’s rather like attending a cocktail party with an intriguing group of elegant guests. I wonder what the topic of convivial conversation would be between the curly bob-haired, Cake Maker in her prim red frock, and the sallow faced, wide-eyed Translucent Man?
What is most inspiring about these colourfully enigmatic characters is the fact they are drawn from Peter Hallam’s richly inventive imagination: elements of these portraits may be tentatively based on observing people he has met or just seen on his travels, although he does not work from photographs.
The titles also add a dramatic narrative to help us delve beneath the sombre expressions, such as By the Light of the Silvery Moon, borrowed from the romantic ballad (Bing Crosby, Doris Day et al.). His neat hair, crisp white shirt, tailored jacket and Tiffany blue eyes presents an air of charm and gentility. The rosy glow backdrop could reflect the moonlight as he sets off for a night on the town.
He might get on well with the cool and composed, Lady Pearl – dark Frida Kahlo eyebrows, flicked up hair and slightly pursed, red stained lips – reminiscent of Lady Penelope, the aristocratic socialite and secret agent of the 1960s TV series.
As well as the charismatic Lady Pearl, in search of love and adventure, you could also envisage The Family being able to step out of the frame and take part in an animated movie. Posing stoically for the artist, or a selfie photo, there’s a tangible sense of movement here, as the mother leans over to whisper in her husband’s ear.
Facial features, physical gesture and sombre expressions all hint at the hidden emotions behind these thoughtful, theatrical and humorous characters. While not based on the likeness of real people, through gentle parody they illustrate a subtle sense of human empathy and compassion.
Here is a sandy haired and soulful image of Mr Sandman – presumably the folktale figure who encourages children to sleep and inspire beautiful dreams by sprinkling magical sand onto their eyes.
‘Good artists borrow, great artists steal.’ – Pablo Picasso
Picasso was enthralled by seeing ‘Madame Moitessier’ (1846) by Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres at a Paris exhibition in 1921 and in homage to Ingres, he later painted ‘Woman with a Book’, (1932). The model was Picasso’s young mistress, Marie-Thérèse Walter, who mimics Moitessier’s distinctive gracious pose, holding a book instead of a fan.
Andy Warhol created his first portrait of Marilyn Monroe soon after she died in August 1962, copying a publicity photo for her 1953 film Niagara. One particular version of the duplicated series, ‘Shot Sage Blue Marilyn’ (1964) was purchased for $195 million in May 2022, the most expensive artwork by an American artist ever sold at auction.
For this silk screen portrait, Warhol transformed the iconic face of the actress with a pink face, blue eye shadow and red lips against a sage background. With a masterly brushstroke, (and a touch of Warhol-esque Pop artistry), a few of Hallam’s characters share the magnetic Marilyn look. In his vibrant pink jacket, here is a debonair gentleman, Strolling through the Streets of Paris: with a slender, elegant face, his translucent grape-green eyes sparkle with light and joy, enhanced by the turquoise sheen, slicked over his eyelids.
And finally, The Victorian Gentleman is a most suitable guest to be part of this collection at the Heriot Gallery. With his slender, boyish good looks, he resembles the 19th century novelist, poet and traveller Robert Louis Stevenson, who lived nearby on Heriot Row, often sporting a velvet jacket as the dapper dandy around town.
Pop Art (Paolozzi, Warhol, Lichtenstein, Hockney) was influenced by advertising, fashion, TV, movies, cartoons and comic strips. Blending vintage glamour, romanticism and wit, Peter Hallam has now created his own original aesthetic vision to re-invent the eclectic genre of modern portraiture.
With thanks to Vivien Devlin for this review.