Just who is Cindy Sherman and how does she manage to become so many fictional people? She convincingly portrays imagined histories of invented characters created by the clever use of make-up, wigs, prosthetics, props and costumes. The UK’s first retrospective of her work is now on show at the National Portrait Gallery. It presents a fascinating array of oddness, wit, manipulation, playfulness and unsettling impressions of imagined ‘selves’.

This exhibition of photographs by and of Cindy Sherman is quite unsettling.  You know that the person in the image is just one person but, goodness, the variety of faces and expressions which are captured is breathtaking.  Cindy Sherman is a human chameleon; she uses make-up, prosthetics, props, clothing, wigs, false teeth and her own remarkable acting ability to conjure hundreds of different people in her photographs.  Old, young, female, male…. the pictures all convey impressions of fictional people with believable settings and expressions which conjure back stories of misery, abuse, abandonment or just an imagined idea of ‘normal’.

Her approach to portraiture is unconventional, original and hugely compelling. After ploughing a very distinctive groove for 40 years, she is an internationally renowned artistic superstar.

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I liked the early photographs made soon after she graduated from the State University College in Buffalo, especially these ones which show the evolution of the look she is trying to achieve.  But what made her first stare at her face in the mirror, explore ways of painting it and decide to set it in poses….? We don’t really get an answer; and why should we? I guess she’d be the first person to say that it’s just ‘what she does’.  And this way of doing and seeing has taken her art in some fascinating directions.

For example, she corrupts the idea of the magazine cover with great aplomb. These images make you smile, chuckle a little and also feel uneasy. How extraordinary that she has managed to transform her face so that it so closely resembles the blandly smiling models and then ‘goofs them up’.

 

No portrait image, selfie or accidental shot of a face is safe from Cindy Sherman’s scrutiny or corruption.  It seems that the more difficult the challenge the more she relishes it.  I did like the series of photographs she made of fictional ‘society ladies’.  These images are of imagined women who display their wealth and status through their expensive clothes, their opulent surroundings and their manufactured faces.  These women believe that they look young and desirable but what the viewer really sees is a painted  mask on an ageing face which conveys confidence but hides a vulnerability and fear of losing that notion of power and beauty.

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I loved her interpretation of the fabulous portrait by Ingres of  Madame Moitessier  and conjured a similar woman but in contemporary clothing, seated in the same pose.

The exhibition incorporates an impression of Cindy Sherman’s studio in Greenwich Village, New York, where she has assembled a vast array of props, clothes, wigs and make-up and spends her time painting, adorning and adapting her face and body to make it into anyone she wants.

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I’ve seen her work but I’m still not sure I’ve seen the REAL Cindy Sherman.

The exhibition is at the National Portrait Gallery until 15th September 2019.

 

 

 

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