The work of Stuart Pearson Wright (b. Northampton 1975) reflects a search for lost identity. One of the first children born in the UK by artificial insemination the artist feels that the process has created an identity void which his work attempts to deal with. Wrights new series of paintings at Riflemaker
- shown alongside a film installation featuring Keira Knightley - explore and dispel the stereotypes of masculinity and femininity as depicted in films, books and comics; specifically in the stories and myths of the American West.
Choosing portraiture in an era when it was not always seen as a legitimate part of contemporary art, and a winner the BP Portrait Award aged just 26, Wright has spent much of his career attempting to subvert traditional portrait painting. He distorts his subjects, employing his own features and those of his fiancée in meticulously painted and stylised characters set in pulpy, fictional situations.
Having never met his father, Wright says: Each time I paint my own face I am looking at the face of my father - without knowing who he is or was or what he looked like. As a result, I'm interested in the ways in which we construct ourselves and our apparent identities - and the layers and the processes we go through in that construction.
In the double-screen film installation, Maze, written and directed by the artist, Wright and Knightley play Elizabethan courtiers lost in a grand maze. Only a hedge separates the frustrated and rather lacklustre pair. They hear each others cries but are unable to locate one another. Eventually it is the man who fails to rescue his lover while the woman regains composure, the work being a metaphor for a relationship breaking down.
The cowboy as an archetypal masculine hero appears throughout the series of paintings at Riflemaker. We see him as a rider looking down from a rocky outcrop in a panoramic landscape reminiscent of Caspar David Friedrich. Wright cites the closing sequence of the early 1980s TV series The Incredible Hulk, with its attendant heart-wrenching 'lonely-man' theme, as a watershed moment that stirred deep sadness in him as a boy and taught him about existentialism and the human condition; the anti-hero returns to normal life, walking away from the camera with his head down and his essential solitude exposed. Although the paintings appear on first impression to be lighthearted as a result of the caricatured figures and bright colours, there is simultaneously a dark humour that permeates the work.
In this way the artist explores the boundaries between high and low art, some of his characters being painted onto Thrift-store canvases bought in the US as he replicates that style in his own backgrounds. This exploration has extended beyond his own work. In 2009, he staged Kunskog at 500 Dollars, Vyner Street, a space which he briefly ran. Wright selected one hundred works which embraced the gamut of contemporary drawing and the idiosyncrasies of taste, from works by Turner Prize winner Gillian Wearing, and established artists, Paul Noble, Michael Landy and Ged Quinn, to others who draw in private, including former subjects, John Hurt and David Thewlis. Stuart also invited non-artists to submit work for the show, including friends, their children and his own mother.
Stuart Pearson Wright won the BP Portrait Award 2001 for Gallus Gallus With Still Life and Presidents or what the media dubbed the 'dead chicken' painting. In 2003 he shocked with a controversial naked portrait of Prince Philip.
The artists work features in numerous public collections including the British Museum, the Ashmolean Museum and the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) Museum. Dinos Chapman, Kathy Burke, Deborah Warner, David Thewlis and Daniel Radcliffe are among the many fans and collectors of his work.