Portrait painter suitable for a king (but not suitable for a president)

It seems there are few famous Brits who could resist the chance to paint Jonathan Yeo. Broadcasting legend David Attenborough, 97, also went to a cozy studio hidden at the end of a lane in west London to pose for Mr Yeo, one of Britain’s most famous figures. He is one of the people who recently climbed the spiral staircase. portrait artist.

But when it came to painting the latest portrait of Charles III, the artist had to grapple with his subject matter.

Yeo rented a truck and transported the 7.5-by-5.5-foot canvas to Clarence House, the king’s residence in London. There he erected a stand so that he could apply the final brushstrokes to his strikingly modern portrait of Charles in uniform against an ethereal background.

The painting, which will be unveiled at Buckingham Palace in mid-May, will be the first large-scale rendering since Charles became king. This work reaffirms Mr Yeo’s status as his generation’s go-to portrait painter for the great good of Britain, and for actors, writers, businessmen and celebrities around the world. Dew. His privately commissioned works can fetch around $500,000 each.

Painting the king’s portrait also marks a return to normalcy for Mr Yeo, 53, who suffered a near-fatal heart attack last year, which he attributes to the after-effects of cancer in his early 20s. I think this is the cause. Charles, 75, announced in February, just 18 months into his reign, that he had been diagnosed with cancer.

Mr. Yeo said he did not know about the king’s illness until he completed the painting. If anything, his depiction is of an energetic and dignified monarch. But Mr Yeo got to know Prince Charles over four occasions that began in June 2021, when he was still Prince of Wales, and continued until after the death of his mother, Queen Elizabeth II, and his coronation in May last year. I was able to gain deeper empathy for men. .

“You can see physical changes in people depending on how things are going,” Yeo said from his studio. So he politely turned the painting, which had not yet been shown to the public, away from the gaze of curious visitors. “Age and experience suited him,” he said. “His attitude has clearly changed since he became king.”

The portrait was commissioned by the Worshipful Company of Drapers, a medieval wool and cloth merchants’ guild that is now a charity. The work will be displayed in Draper’s Hall, the company’s baronial mansion in London’s financial district, which includes galleries for monarchs from George III to Queen Victoria. Mr. Yeo’s Charles adds a modern jolt to that classic lineup.

“What Johnny succeeded in doing was combining an elusive majesty with an edgy element,” said his friend and art historian Philip Mold, who saw the painting and called it “something like a unicorn.” he said.

Mr. Yeo is no stranger to depicting the royal family. He portrayed Charles’ wife, Queen Camilla, as very happy and his father, Prince Philip, less so. “He was a bit of a caged tiger,” Yeo recalls. “I can’t imagine he was easygoing as his father, but he was interesting as a subject.”

Still, this is Mr Yeo’s first time as a sitting monarch, having previously held prime ministers (Tony Blair and David Cameron), actors (Dennis Hopper and Nicole Kidman), artists (Damien Hirst) and moguls (Rupert). Murdoch) and activists have been the subject of photographs (Malala Yousafzai).

Mr Yeo said there was an element of “.futurology” and in his work. Some of his subjects became even more famous after he painted them. Others have faded. Kevin was tried and acquitted on charges of sexual misconduct.・Some, like Spacey, have fallen into disrepute.The National Portrait Gallery in Washington has a portrait of Spacey that Mr. Yeo created when he played a ruthless politician in the “House of Cards” series. was returned.

Looking back at his A-list subjects, Yeo has developed some rules of thumb for his art. Older faces are more vibrant and easier to capture than younger faces. The best portraits capture visual characteristics that will remain relevant as the person ages. And the only subjects I’m bad at are boring subjects.

“He didn’t want me to pose, he just wanted me to talk,” says the elegant actor from the classic crime film Breaking Bad and the recent Guy Ritchie TV series The Gentlemen. said Giancarlo Esposito, an American actor known for playing great villains. “As an actor, Esposito was good at portraying characters, “but there was no way to fool him,” he said.

“It was an opportunity to be Giancarlo without the mask,” Esposito said. The last time he posed for a portrait was when he was a child at the county fair.

A languid man with a wide smile and stylish glasses tucked deep into his forehead, Mr. Yeo learned as an only child to appreciate the charms and weaknesses of public figures. His father, Tim Yeo, was a Conservative MP and a minister under Prime Minister John Major, but his career was marred by public and private scandals.

Initially, the eldest son, Mr. Yeo, had little patience for his son’s artistic dreams. “My father was absolutely convinced that I needed to get a proper job,” he says. When he took a year off after high school to pursue a career as a painter, they gave him no money. Mr. Yeo’s early efforts show that he had no formal training, and “obviously I didn’t sell photography at all.”

Then, in 1993, at the end of his sophomore year at the University of Kent, he was stricken with Hodgkin’s disease. Mr. Yeo delved deeply into painting as a way to cope with his illness. His breakthrough came when he was commissioned to paint a portrait by his father’s friend, the Anglican archbishop and anti-apartheid activist Trevor Huddleston.

“He asked me, almost out of pity,” Yeo recalls. “But the results turned out to be spectacular and better than anyone expected.”

Commissions started pouring in, and Mr. Yeo became popular for his revealing portraits of famous people. In 2013, a mid-term exhibition of his work was held at the National Portrait Gallery in London.

“He took the portrait home,” said Nick Jones, founder of Soho House, a chain of private members’ clubs that has worked with Mr. Yeo to decorate its walls with paintings by Mr. Yeo and other artists. “Portraits have always been very demanding,” Jones said. “He was able to add layers and bring out people’s personalities.”

It helps that Mr Yeo is well-connected, prolific and entrepreneurial. He is clear about the commercial aspects of his art. “No matter how you dress, you’re still in the luxury business to some extent,” he said.

Successful but creatively restless, Yeo began experimenting. When an aide to President George W. Bush contacted him to take a portrait and then canceled the project, he decided to do it anyway, but as a collage of images cut from pornographic magazines. Created.

Bush’s portrait went viral on the web, and Mr Yeo created collages of other celebrities, including Hugh Hefner and Silvio Berlusconi. It was a provocative but time-consuming job — he bought a bunch of skin magazines to gather enough raw material — and when he said, “The iPad killed the porn magazine industry,” supply has been depleted.

Mr. Yeo also became attracted to the use of technology in art. He worked on design projects with his Apple. He painted celebrity chef Jamie Oliver over FaceTime during the pandemic. And he created an app that offers a virtual reality tour of his own studio, a fully equipped space located in an old workshop where he once manufactured organs.

But one Sunday night in March 2023, Mr Yeo’s busy life came to a frightening halt. He went into cardiac arrest and his heart stopped for over two minutes. Mr Yeo said he believed the crisis was related to his own cancer treatment decades ago. Although he didn’t see a bright light at the end of the tunnel, as other near-death experiencers have said, he did recall a distinct feeling of floating outside of his body.

Yo, who is married with two daughters, is clinging to life. After his recovery, he found that his calling as a painter (which had been temporarily diverted by detours into technology and other pursuits) had been rekindled. Soon he became obsessed with portraits of Charles, Mr. Esposito, and Mr. Attenborough.

“There’s definitely a feeling of, ‘Let’s stop messing around,'” Yeo said. “It’s like dodging a bullet.”

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