Charcoal and conte on paper
125.6 x 97cm
In recent years, Paul Emsley’s career has reached new heights both locally and internationally. He does not consider himself
a portraitist, and throughout his career has preferred not to limit himself with one genre. It is, however, in the field of portraiture that he has enjoyed noteworthy successes that warrants attention. In 2007 he won first prize in the prestigious BP Portrait Award in London. In 2009, his portrait of fellow artist William Kentridge raised eyebrows at the Johannesburg Art Fair, and sold to an anonymous buyer despite a hefty price tag. In the same year, he was commissioned by the British National Portrait Gallery in London to paint the knighted author - Sir V. S. Naipaul. It is under these circumstances that Emsley recently began his most significant project - to produce a portrait of Nelson Mandela.
In order to obtain the material required for such a project, Emsley met the world icon at his offices in Johannesburg and undertook all of the photography himself. Portraying what is perhaps the most famous face in the world, in such a way that it not only captures the essence of the man, but complies to the highest standards of technical integrity (a hallmark of Emsley’s work) was undoubtedly the greatest challenge facing the artist. There were, however, other unforeseen difficulties that had to be contended with. Emsley was given a ten minute slot in which to take the photographs. He explains: “There were some difficulties and uncertainties, Mr. Mandela being understandably rather tired of being photographed. He was as engaging and warm as I had expected. He had about him a definite atmosphere of benevolent authority. I had to ask him to stop smiling as my intention was to do a fairly ‘serious’ portrait.” Emsley managed to obtain fourteen suitable photographs from which to work.
The portrait is destined to find itself in one of the prominent museums in Europe or the United States (this process has not been finalized yet), but South African audiences can judge this historical work for themselves at the 2010 Johannesburg Art Fair.
Paul Emsley is represented by the Redfern Gallery in London and is associated with iArt Gallery in Cape Town.