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Details
Nicolas Party (b. 1980)
Portrait
signed and dated 'Nicolas Party 2016' (on the reverse)
pastel on card
31 ¼ x 23 5/8in. (79.3 x 60cm.)
Executed in 2016
Provenance
The Modern Institute, Glasgow.
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2016.
Literature
A. Subotnick, 'The First Form of Art', in Parkett, no. 100-101, 2017 (illustrated in colour, p. 314).
The Modern Institute, Nicolas Party: Pastel, Glasgow 2017 (illustrated in colour, unpaged).
Sale Room Notice
Please note that this lot is subject to Artist's Resale Rights ('Droite de Suite'). Please refer to the back of the catalogue for further information.

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Tessa Lord
Tessa Lord

Lot Essay

Portrait (2016) is a captivating and enigmatic work by Nicolas Party, who uses the medium of pastel with astounding skill to re-energise traditional artistic subjects. The well-worn formal ‘characters’ his work invigorates include trees, fruit, landscapes and people: Portrait is from the latter category. Closely framed against a vivid mint-green background, an androgynous figure gazes into the middle distance with large, hypnotic blue eyes. The facial features – including lavender eyeshadow, pencilled auburn eyebrows and pursed, fuchsia-tinted lips – are modelled with exquisite attention to volume and shade, creating a smoothly three-dimensional presence. In contrast, the subject's brown hair, indigo pullover and crisp white collar are zones of blank colour, flat as paper cut-outs. The eyes, too, are uncannily flat, as if painted on the surface of a mask. The work oscillates between convincing illusionism and eerie artifice. Party works with precision and wit, weaving art-historical echoes – from Christian Schad’s stark Neue Sachlichkeit portraits to the virtuoso neo-Classical pastels of Picasso, who often used the lavenders and mint-greens present in Portrait – into an idiom that is entirely his own.

Each element of Portrait is carefully considered, the technical challenges of pastel forcing the artist to never put a foot wrong. Party takes real haptic pleasure in his medium, massaging the powdery pigment with his fingers to model the face into sculptural relief. ‘I love pastels so much’, he says. ‘I came to them because at one point I was doing oils, and my main problem was that I couldn’t stop editing the painting. Oils allow you to endlessly retouch. With pastels it’s kind of the exact opposite. You can layer and layer, but you can’t start over. The nature of the medium is much more direct. Nothing dries or is wet – it stays exactly how it is’ (N. Party, quoted in T. Loos, ‘Artist Nicolas Party Revives the Language of Pastel’, Cultured Magazine, 17 March 2019). His fascination with the medium began in 2013, after he saw Picasso’s 1921 pastel Tête de femme in an exhibition. ‘I bought the postcard’, he recalls, ‘and went to the art store the next day to buy a pastel kit. I had never tried working with pastel before and started to copy Picasso’s portrait. And while I was working on it, I wasn’t seeing a woman on the postcard, just a portrait. Not a man or a woman, just a human head. When Picasso made his pastel, he was looking at a lot of Greek sculpture. I think he wasn’t paying attention to whether they were men or women; he was just fascinated by the perfection of the faces. He was probably also intrigued by their androgynous aspect: some statues of men could be women and vice versa’ (N. Party, quoted in R. Vitorelli, ‘Interview Nicolas Party’, Spike, no. 44, Summer 2015). This same timeless, placeless beauty pervades Portrait, which radiates a sense of deep mystery from its seemingly simple execution.

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