Lisa Wilkens calls her works “prevented portraits”, and the title, initially at least, seems apposite. Her lithograph, Prevented Portrait: Myself, is a portrait prevented from doing what portraiture was always designed to do: to show the face. We see the back of a short-haired human head in a curved-edged frame. The levelness of its pose suggests a sitting for a passport photo or head shot, and its suit jacket, smart shirt and neatly combed hair imply another kind of ‘straightness’ – a sense of the conventional, of the straight and narrow. The generic associations of the clothing are carried through in (what we see of ) the head itself; its hidden individuality makes it as interchangeable as any face in the crowd. This, then, is a portrait that swerves away from the specific; a kind of anti-portrait. And yet a turned head – familiar from works by Vermeer or Richter – suggests something else too: absorption. Wilkens’ lithographic process, requiring a steady hand and focused eye, is mimicked in the turned head’s evident attention at something we can’t see; the precision of her description (the feathered strands of hair, with its slick sheen) can’t elucidate the head’s mystery. This is a self-portrait that hides itself in the thickets of its making.

Text by Ben Street

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