Preliminary sketches of Tony Blair invariably had the PM knocking off the head of a robot.
November 15, 2008 11:22 AM   Subscribe

When the House of Commons required a portrait of outgoing PM Tony Blair, to whom did they turn? Phil Hale.

Philip Oliver Hale got his start very young indeed, co-founding with Rick Berry the Newbury Studio in 1980 at age 16. He took over the paintbrush from Michael Whelan for Volume II of Stephen King's fantasy saga The Dark Tower in 1987. (He later revisited The Drawing of the Three with new illustrations for the second edition in 1998.)

The twenty-first century has seen Hale's standing improve among critics. In 2001, he published GOAD (sadly now out of print). In 2003, he finished a portrait of composer Thomas Adès for the National Portrait Gallery. He had a 2005 show in London's Jerwood Space, and 2007 brought him the a commission for new covers for Penguin Classics UK's line of Joseph Conrad collections.

He is represented by Allen Spiegel Fine Arts in the US.
posted by infinitewindow (22 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

 
Is it just me, or does it look like they painted Tony Blair's head onto the artists body? Look at the collar, the suit in that video... they're identical.
posted by vernondalhart at 11:36 AM on November 15, 2008


Why did they choose the "No, Mr. Bond, I expect you to die" expression?
posted by The Whelk at 11:49 AM on November 15, 2008 [2 favorites]


Looking at the Ades one, he likes painting them from odd angles... which unfortunately makes Blair look like Joseph Merrick in a nylon wig.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 11:51 AM on November 15, 2008


I presume that Blair and/or Hale are advocates of phrenology. What else could explain that massive head?
posted by boubelium at 11:52 AM on November 15, 2008


Look at the collar, the suit in that video... they're identical.

Trying for a Dorian Gray?
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 11:52 AM on November 15, 2008


The review beneath the main article is spot on as to the problem with Blair's head.
posted by captainsohler at 11:56 AM on November 15, 2008 [1 favorite]


Here's a Guardian link for those who don't want to support the Daily Mail. Mr. Hale comments.
posted by infinitewindow at 12:10 PM on November 15, 2008


That's a damn good painting. It captures his strength (his intelligence) and his weakness (that relentless self-doubt) all at once, managing to make him look a lot more serious and imposing than the usual caricatures. It's painting-as-history, and it's a clear win for me on that score.

The only inaccuracy I see is that the Blair in the painting is just a little too far to the left.
posted by rokusan at 12:11 PM on November 15, 2008 [4 favorites]


Woo hoo. I have an Insomnia portfolio signed by Phil Hale. Does this make worth more money?

Kinda half-serious there. I'm not planning on selling it anytime soon. It's the only thing I have signed by Stephen King.

I like the portrait.
posted by marxchivist at 12:14 PM on November 15, 2008


make IT worth money
posted by marxchivist at 12:15 PM on November 15, 2008


er.. where's the wedding ring?
posted by By The Grace of God at 1:04 PM on November 15, 2008


Why the long face?
posted by Poolio at 1:41 PM on November 15, 2008


Too many paintbrush strokes.
posted by Balisong at 1:45 PM on November 15, 2008


That's a damn good painting. It captures his strength (his intelligence) and his weakness (that relentless self-doubt) all at once, managing to make him look a lot more serious and imposing than the usual caricatures.
Misses his loony Jesus-freak thousand-yard stare though. First thing I noticed about the man when he entered the national political stage and I had him pegged straight off as a wrong-un.
posted by Abiezer at 2:11 PM on November 15, 2008 [2 favorites]


It is interesting, and the "oversized" head makes him seem like one of those stock photos from the dot com boom with people on web pages looking straight up at you, which increases the drama. You are looking down, of course, but a flatter presentation was still a possible choice. I tried to get a sense of how it would look hanging on a wall slightly above you by tilting my monitor and my desk chair back as far as both would go, and I think it isn't as distorted looking in that situation -- the artist's intent is to draw you up the expanse of blank dark suit to his face, and it work. You do have the sense of someone distracted and pensive rather than calmly attentive to the task of sitting for a portrait for the ages.

While voting this month, I was in the room in city hall where all the city managers going back to ~1930 have their portraits. The first two were interestingly dramatic, with a slight 3/4 quality to the pose. The next half-dozen were dead, dull looking forward at the camera with a barely perceptible smile. The last was the newly departed manager, with a straight-on look and a politician's grin (and for reasons unknown, a completely different frame, breaking the sense of a set). Ideas about portraiture change over time even in constrained official contexts.
posted by dhartung at 2:15 PM on November 15, 2008


The critique in the second like is pretty brutal. The head is totally oversized and Blair's hair does become this black toupe-like blob, as the critic says, but I still think the portrait works overall. My first reaction was "woah, that's a good portrait."
posted by beerbajay at 3:19 PM on November 15, 2008


oh and thanks for bringing up portraiture.
posted by beerbajay at 3:19 PM on November 15, 2008


Guardian's review: Short of commissioning Lucian Freud, you're hardly likely to get a masterpiece from a contemporary portrait painter.

Gasp! You mean, those superb, talented artists who exhibit at the Tate wouldn't be able to pull off a portrait like this? How dare you insinuate that they have something less than a rigorous artistic education!
posted by shii at 4:28 PM on November 15, 2008 [1 favorite]


The Ades one looks like a Lucien Freud knockoff.
posted by jayder at 5:10 PM on November 15, 2008


Misses his loony Jesus-freak thousand-yard stare though.

Certainly does. Also misses his fawning awe of power, two-facedness, malevolent stubbornness, lack of moral fibre and humanity.

That's a damn good painting.

It is not a bad painting, but it is a bit hagiographical focusing on the idea that Blair had the weight of the world on his shoulders. Judging by his actions in power and after leaving office, he was more concerned about his own career than anything else. That is a Brown frown, I would imagine.

It captures his strength (his intelligence)

Not sure I follow you.

and his weakness (that relentless self-doubt) all at once,

Again, we are both talking about Tony Blair here, aren't we?

managing to make him look a lot more serious and imposing than the usual caricatures.

As I said, hagiographical.
posted by asok at 6:08 AM on November 17, 2008


I would say that Blair has hubris in spades and was not capable of coming to terms with the disaster he perpetuated during his term in office. That is what this portrait says to me.

So, as I said, I agree that it is a good painting of a bad person.
posted by asok at 6:15 AM on November 17, 2008


Related:

Political leaders' ill-conceived decisions are often connected to their own illness, claims David Owen in this revealing new book.
posted by asok at 6:17 AM on November 17, 2008


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