British artist Susan Brooker’s first solo exhibition, ‘Ladies in Paint’, currently on display at Z Gallery, Four Points by Sheraton Sheikh Zayed Road, features 15 contemporary portrait paintings of some of the 21st century’s most iconic women. Hollywood starlets Marilyn Monroe, Sophia Loren and Audrey Hepburn sit alongside the likes of British supermodel Kate Moss and Queen Elizabeth II.
But it’s not all about depicting the rich and famous. Brooker’s subjects range from some of the world’s most well-known faces to anonymous images of women as seen in her works ‘Native Spirit’ and ‘The Geisha’. ‘I prefer to paint anonymous portraits because there is more of a story behind the painting,’ Brooker explains. ‘My painting “Angel Face” is inspired by a family member who is currently winning the battle against breast cancer. She is so beautiful and even though she is going through a difficult time, she is still so kind to everyone around her. So she reminds me of
The artist chose to use shades of black, grey, white, blue and pink in ‘Angel Face’ to highlight the sadness of the situation, but says she painted the woman facing upwards to the light to show her optimism for the future. ‘The blue in her wings represents coming back to her life as she wins the battle, and the hot pink background is the colour that represents breast cancer,’ she explains.
For this latest exhibition, the artist was inspired by black and white photography and graffiti artists of the ’60s, such as David Walker and Hopare, who both predominantly paint images of women with spray paint. ‘I love the simplicity and depth of black and white photos from the ’60s before digital and airbrushing. It takes real talent to capture, in that one moment, something ethereal and mysterious,’ she says.
The series of works are painted in thick, vibrant oils using only a palette knife and impasto technique, whereby she applies thick layers of pigment to the canvas surface in an attempt to prevent the portrait from blending into its background. And just as the paintings themselves are bold and stand out, she says that the people portrayed in the images also make an impact. ‘I always paint something that I would want to put on my own wall. So I paint strong, beautiful and inspirational women. I hope that women viewing my art aspire to the beauty and the strength of the subjects within it.’
Originally from London, Brooker is a self-taught artist who has spent the past 15 years in the Middle East working in the oil and gas industry, but says she has always had an artistic streak. ‘I’ve only been painting for two years. ‘‘The Geisha” was the third portrait I did in this colourful impasto style. I had returned from a holiday to the Far East and I was inspired to paint something oriental. A feminist may view the culture of geisha women as archaic as they were created to pamper men, but I see geishas as powerful and strong-willed businesswomen.’
In ‘Most Divine’, Brooker paints an extract of a love letter by British poet Alexander Pope that he had written to a lady named Martha Blount, who
he admired for many years. Inspired by a friend’s relationship, Brooker felt the urge to create such a romantic piece. ‘In the love letter, Pope addresses Martha Blount as “Most Divine”, so the colours of this painting are very warm and passionate, and the portrait is of woman looking shy but accepting,’ she says.
‘Ladies in Paint’ offers a refreshing take on the works of classic artists and techniques. Graffiti and modern art enthusiasts are sure to be enthralled.
Open daily 4.30pm-11pm. Until June 15. Z Gallery, Four Points by Sheraton Sheikh Zayed Road (04 323 0333).
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