By Paul Gessell
If you were asked to create a portrait of Prime Minister Stephen Harper, how would you depict him?
Like Caesar, or an emperor, or a hip Father of Confederation? And what about a nude portrait?
These are all the types of portraits created by a handful of Ottawa-area artists participating in a three-day exhibition, Nov. 27-29, in a pop-up gallery in Arts Court. A strong dose of humour is present in the handful of paintings I managed to see in advance of the opening. None, I am sure, will be acquired for 24 Sussex.
Don Monet of Cube Gallery has organized the exhibition although he says this is not a Cube event.
“I put the call out a while ago – to a small group of artists – and was overwhelmed with the intensity of the response,” says Monet. “These guys really wanted to depict Harper.
After so many years of him representing us to the world via science, environment, foreign affairs, etc., perhaps it’s time we try to represent him. Portraiture that is not vilifying the man in an ad hominem attack, not a cartoon, but fine art – a depiction of the sitter that actually tries to depict some of his essential psychology — a sort of psychoanalysis on canvas if you will.”
Well, Ottawa’s psychoanalyzing artists have reproduced a man many see as powerful, cheerful, and egotistical. The participating artists include Russell Yuristy, Mahshid Farhoudi, Reid McLachlan, Norman Takeuchi, Sharon Lafferty, Greg Ludlow, Peter Dolan, Clare Brennan, Tony Clark, Barry Padolsky, and Katherine McNenly.
The portrait of Harper by Takeuchi is quite conventional, more lifelike than most, except that the prime minister seems to be disintegrating before our eyes.
“I used only discarded scrap materials to produce this as I felt he was not worthy of any more than that,” says Takeuchi. “The colours represent his leadership style: cold and controlling.”
Of course, we must add to the artist line-up Kingston’s Margaret Sutherland, who rattled a few chains last year when she exhibited a nude portrait of Harper at the Kingston Public Library. The painting showed a lounging Harper surrounded by courtiers. The scene echoed a famous painting by French impressionist Edouard Manet called Olympia, which depicted a reclining nude prostitute brazenly staring at all passersby. Sutherland’s painting is called Emperor Haute Couture. It will be part of the Arts Court show.
The nude Harper became the source of Parliament Hill merriment last year. “This is one case where we do need a Conservative cover-up,” Liberal MP Scott Brison was quoted as saying in the Toronto Star. “The prime minister has very little to hide.”
Now, if only Harper had not killed the Portrait Gallery of Canada six years ago; the portraits could have been placed there for posterity.