Since Vermeer’s ‘The Music Lesson,’ painted during the Dutch Golden Age in the 17th Century, artists have been illuminating their subjects with painting techniques that often incorporated the latest technology. Whilst the camera obscura cleverly projected an image onto the opposite wall or canvas to facilitate outline, a more recently proposed theory, illustrated in the documentary Tim’s Vermeer, is that mirrors were secretly used to help artists capture the light accurately on the canvas.
As we enter the 21st century artists are continuing to push the boundaries of visual representation and adopting new and exciting technologies to harness the light. Leading the charge is the light artist Chris Levine, otherwise known as the ‘Golden Boy’ for his intuitive Midas touch that both illuminates his subjects and captures their essential glow. Recognized for his pioneering and mind altering installation pieces that harness the delicate colours of laser light, such as the Flower of Light, he has also given us the definitive version of the 21st century portrait.
His evolving series of 3-D portraits, celebrated by international collectors and The National Gallery, catalogue a very select group of subjects and give us a fresh perspective on the modern icon. The list is incomparable, beginning with Grace Jones he went on to take a career defining portrait of HRH The Queen with her eyes closed, then trumped everything with the modern muse Kate Moss, giving us the ultimate image of a hyper photographed face.
Whilst the technology is complex, Levine’s mastery and attention to detail facilitate both the freedom of spontaneity and mindfulness; it supports his creative flow. Beginning with a camera that moves along a track taking 850 frames in 8 seconds, Levine sets up the shot with his own laser light to center and illuminate the subject. The images are then printed one on top of each other, in a sequence of layers, and covered by a lenticular lens that pulls it all into focus and creates a 3-D image. The image is then back lit, creating light boxes that move beyond the static tradition of a portrait – creating moments of transcendent eternity – and challenge the ubiquity of moving images by magically pausing their essential glow.
Having worked exclusively with female icons it was a logical progression for Levine to shine his light on a male. True to style he has transitioned brilliantly by jumping effortlessly into an entirely different tradition of portraiture: equine. His subject is the legendary racehorse Frankel. No horse in the history of flat racing has ever dominated the field with a succession of 14 wins of different distances.
Owned by Kahlid Abdullah and named after the late American trainer Bobby Frankel, he was trained by the late Sir Henry Cecil who lived to see his final and career defining win of the Champion Stakes at Ascot. “He is the best I’ve ever had, the best I’ve ever seen, I’d be surprised if there’s ever been better,” he told the BBC after the race. Setting a “New Benchmark of Equine Excellence” according to the World Thoroughbred Rankings Committee, he also resurrected the career of his trainer who had always done “everything by instinct.”
|Sir Henry Richard Amhert Cecil, widely regarded a one of the greatest flat race horse trainers in history, was a Champion Trainer ten times. He was famous for fiercely guarding each horses feed a secret. At his peak his stable was 200 strong, however at the turn of the century this number had shrunk to under 50. Frankel came along to resurrect his career, just as the legendary trainer was being written off into retirement. But instinct burns bright and so it was that Frankel, the kind of horse who responds to an intuitive and personalized trainer, found his perfect match.|
What is most spectacular about Levine’s portrait of Frankel, appropriately shown first at the Fine Art Society who could easily source you a Stubbs, is how he captured Frankel in that winning pose. Neck stretched out as if he is crossing the finish line, Levine has immortalized him in his angle of glory. How he managed this is a blend of technical wizardry, natural talent and great intuition. ‘It was only as we were finishing the shoot that Frankel stuck his head out of the stable door, in that moment I knew we had the image and I was ready to capture it.’ The piece glows with a winning light, the kind in which everything conspires together at precisely the right moment. It also gives his exclusive catalogue of exceptional icons, Jones, HRH The Queen and Kate Moss, their very own horse to keep them company.
For more information about Chris Levine’s work click here
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