Portrait shows of this quality are usually the preserve of national museums. In my mind, they’re always associated with a retrospective – nostalgic, dusty and slightly necrophiliac (the sitter being all either gone or on their way to being so) – look at a great painter’s career. This is certainly not the case here.
In this ongoing solo show, Alessandro Raho is clearly reaching a new climax. Leaving behind the shadow of early Hockney and of other illustrious British predecessors, the Bahamas-born and Goldsmiths-educated painter is now moving into a painterly zone all his own; his touch is at first disconcertingly clumsy, then miraculously apt.
By subtly playing on clashes between classical representation and urban iconography – what would Velasquez have done if his sitter were wearing a Disney t-shirt or a YSL dress? – this is portraiture at its most miraculous. It’s capable of catching tantalising glimpses of life, from the mystery of a weary look to the charm of a button popping out of Michael Craig Martin’s cardigan. Meanwhile, it threads that thin line between observational accuracy and the undeniable fact of the fading of the subject. Indeed, the subtle interplay of colour, form and texture suggests that at any minute these canvases may vanish into thin air and disintegrate into dust.
Despite initial impressions, the work on display is not the ghost of classical portraiture – it is portraiture reborn, revived, reinvented, reinvigorated, fresh as wet paint. If you haven’t seen it yet, you should. The show ends this week and it will then, as I feared it would while walking through the gallery, vanish into thin air.
The show can be visited until 6 October at Alison Jacques Gallery.
Alison Jacques Gallery
16-18 Berners Street
London W1T 3LN