Portrait painting is having a major revival. These days contemporary artists are reinventing this genre to bring forth autobiographical, gender, race, and identity issues. Next to its market success, the popularity of the genre is evidenced in the huge following portrait artists have on Instagram. In this post, I share who are ten of the most followed and interesting portrait artists on Instagram.
- 1. Kehinde Wiley: Reinventing the Genre
- 2. Mark Tennant: Capturing the Energy of Urban Life
- 3. Cesar Santos: A Syncretic Approach to Portrait Painting
- 4. Matt Talbert: The Expressive Power of the Subject’s Gaze
- 5. Loribelle Spirovski: Negotiating Her Identity Through Art
- 6. William Rochfort: Revisiting the 1960s
- 7. Amoako Boafo: Honoring the African Diaspora Through Portrait Painting
- 8. Jordan Casteel: Representing Everyday Scenes of Subjects of Color
- 9. Colleen Barry: Uncovering Emotions Through Portrait Painting
- 10. Rosso Emerald Crimson: A Self-Taught Artist Painting Ethereal Portraits of Women
- Key Takeaways
- Thanks for Reading!
1. Kehinde Wiley: Reinventing the Genre
Kehinde Wiley is a well-known African-American portrait artist who creates technically complex, vibrant, and political portrayals of black folk, ranging from teenagers he meets on the streets to fellow artists and Barack Obama. His realistic portraits employ and often mimic the techniques and composition layouts used by the Old Masters whose styles he studied during his school years first at San Francisco Art Institute and then at Yale. However, Wiley’s portraits substitute the classical Caucasian characters with black male individuals placed against flowery or textile-inspired backgrounds that challenge our preconceptions of masculinity. Wiley’s work has redefined the genre because it has brought portraits of people of color into the world of galleries and museums where they have been largely underrepresented. Proof of the artist’s popularity is his market success and his impressive following of 550k!
Working from: Los Angeles, United States of America
2. Mark Tennant: Capturing the Energy of Urban Life
Mark Tennant is a formally trained artist. He holds a BFA from the Maryland Institute College of Art, in Baltimore, and an MFA from the New York Academy of Art, in NYC. For years, Mark has created photorealist portrait oil-based paintings constructed with wide and dynamic brushstrokes. In this way, his paintings mimic photographic compositions in which the artist captures the energy and emotions of urban life with gestural traces. For example, he regularly represents scenes of people walking on the streets, on a ferry, on the subway, or visiting an art exhibition. On occasion, the subjects seem to be photographed without warning and shield themselves from the blinding light of the camera’s flash. Even if the artist blurs most of the subject’s features, he manages to create expressive and narrative compositions. As Tennant’s website shared, his painting approach relies on classical techniques and has a lot to do with Impressionism. Next to his work as an artist Mark also teaches workshops internationally and has taught museum copying at the Louvre.
Working from: New York City, United States of America
3. Cesar Santos: A Syncretic Approach to Portrait Painting
Cuban-American artist Cesar Santos studied art both at the New World School of the Arts, in Miami, and at the Angel Academy of Art, in Florence. Through his portraits Santos actualizes traditional techniques and materials, such as graphite, charcoal, gesso, and oil painting, translating them into hyperreal portraits filled with emotion. At the same time, his works include opposing artistic influences within the same frame in a style he calls Syncretism. As proof of this, his portraits include references to Renaissance-style figures, such as the ones painted by Fra Angelico, alongside Modernist motifs like Dalí’s melting clocks or Picasso’s geometric forms. Cesar also has a popular YouTube channel where he shares tutorials and the process he follows to create his portraits. His work has garnered international recognition and is held in museum collections in Europe and the US.
Working from: Cuban-American, based in Florida.
4. Matt Talbert: The Expressive Power of the Subject’s Gaze
Matt Talbert is a contemporary oil painter living in Southern California. As explained on his website, he is both a graduate of the Orange County School of the Arts and the Laguna College of Art and Design. Matt focuses his practice on creating expressive paintings of the human figure. His portrayal of the human form is characterized by thick layers of paint and alternating traditional techniques with a more experimental approach to painting. Frequently, Matt paints face portraits of women and, on occasion, also represents nude female figures. In Matt’s portraits, the realistic features of the subjects contrast with the abstract background constructed with overlapping layers of color. The most distinctive feature of his portraits is the expressive nature of his subject’s eyes. Like many other artists, Talbert also has a YouTube channel where he shares tutorials and videos of his working process.
Working from: Southern California, United States of America
5. Loribelle Spirovski: Negotiating Her Identity Through Art
Philippine artist Loribelle Spirovski is a young trained painter living and working in Sydney, Australia. Loribelle, who studied art at the University of South Wales, is highly influenced by her upbringing in two regions of the world. As explained on her website, Loribelle regularly looks for inspiration in the work of varied artists ranging from Francis Bacon to filmmaker David Lynch and composer Olivier Messiaen. Her work mainly explores the human form and is formally diverse. In some works, she depicts her subjects with great realism, while in others she includes only a gestural outline of the human form placing it over a blurred or abstract background. In this way, her oeuvre oscillates between a hyperrealist style and a gestural approach to painting. At the same time, her work also reveals the influence of Surrealism as she regularly includes symbolically charged motifs in her works.
Working from: Sydney, Australia
6. William Rochfort: Revisiting the 1960s
William Rochfort’s portrait oil paintings capture daily life and movie-inspired scenes of the 1960s. In this way, his work is inspired by the legacy of artists like Edward Hopper and Norman Rockwell who created portraits that told a story to the viewers. In William’s case, his stories come to life through delicate brushstrokes that reconstruct the nostalgic golden era of cinema. According to the artist his works are “snapshots of moments in time.” To capture these “moments” the artist’s working process relies on lengthy photoshoots of life models placed in carefully arranged sets that reconstruct past times. However, William achieves more than just reproducing these sets as the artist also draws from Impressionist techniques. Next to his paintings inspired in the 1960s, Will also works on commissions requested by restaurants or movie theater chains. The artist often interacts with his social media followers. For instance, in 2020 he started the 100-portrait challenge, in which he committed to painting 100 portraits of the subjects suggested by his followers.
Working from: United Kingdom
7. Amoako Boafo: Honoring the African Diaspora Through Portrait Painting
The painter Amoako Boafo is from Accra, Ghana, where he attended the Ghanatta College of Art and Design and later on moved to Vienna where he continued his education at the Academy of Fine Arts. Boafo’s colorful portrait paintings of black subjects from the African diaspora are constructed with his signature finger-painting technique, which recalls Egon Schiele, who the artist acknowledges as one of his inspirations. Amoako’s technique involves adding blue, brown, and red oil paint with his fingers on the canvas, creating simplified forms that come close to abstraction. Boafo’s expressive characters contrast with his single-color backgrounds. The artist’s subjects are people who mean something to him, whether family members, celebrities, artists, or friends. This artist’s innovative approach to portrait making has granted him international acclaim and market success.
Working from: Vienna, Austria
8. Jordan Casteel: Representing Everyday Scenes of Subjects of Color
New York-based artist Jordan Casteel received an MFA from Yale University in 2014. This young yet successful artist creates humanizing and realistic portraits depicting black men, women, and children in everyday situations. For example, she has painted colossal portraits based on photographs she takes of her former classmates at Yale University, street vendors, and business owners in her Harlem neighborhood. Similar to other portrait artists of color, Casteel’s oil paintings challenge our traditional notions of gender and race in portraiture and feature those who have been left out of this genre. Her expressive portraits colored in a palette of amber, lavender, and indigo, are widely recognized. As proof of this, they have been featured in solo shows at Denver Art Museum and New York’s New Museum.
Working from: New York City, United States of America
9. Colleen Barry: Uncovering Emotions Through Portrait Painting
Colleen Barry’s passion for art began at a young age. A lifetime New Yorker, Colleen began her studies at the Art Students League when she was fourteen and later on apprenticed with Sam Adoquei, Andrea Smith, and Jacob Collins. Colleen’s signature painting style draws from the work of Renaissance masters infusing it with a gestural and emotional touch. At the same time, Barry is an Art History lover. As stated on her website, her influences range from Michelangelo, Raphael, and Kathe Kollwitz to the portraits of Andy Warhol. While Barry’s academic approach to portrait making relies heavily on drawing, it is also close to her heart as she normally captures family members, including her two young children, friends, or acquaintances. Next to this autobiographical and expressive body of work, Barry has created artworks for the film and music industry working for artists like Lil Kim. The artist is also a teacher and currently acts as the Director of Drawing at the Grand Central Atelier in Long Island City, New York.
Working from: New York City, United States of America
10. Rosso Emerald Crimson: A Self-Taught Artist Painting Ethereal Portraits of Women
Rosso is a self-taught Italian artist. As shared on the artist’s website, Rosso graduated in Political Science in Italy and then obtained an MA in International Communications and Human Rights at City University in London. For years, she worked in marketing and advertising before changing her career direction to the visual arts. Nowadays, Rosso creates ethereal-looking portraits of female subjects, bringing to mind the work of Edward Klimt. However, beneath the unsmiling expressions of her subjects lies an interest in bringing forth issues of racial injustice, gender identity, and environmental crisis. The final result is mixed-media expressive portraits, including spray paint, vigorous scraping and scratching of the surface, and the application of metal leaves and gilding in her abstract-looking backgrounds. Overall, Rosso uses a mix of traditional and experimental techniques to depict gender issues and our society’s stereotypes of femininity or race.
Working from: London, United Kingdom
- Portrait painting is one of the most popular genres among contemporary art collectors.
- Portrait artists experiment with traditional painting techniques and styles infusing them with a contemporary aesthetic and subject matter.
- Portrait artists of color are among the most sought-after given how they bring forth race and identity issues. This is reflected in the huge number of followers they have on Instagram.
- Hyperrealist and Impressionist-inspired portraits are among the most popular on Instagram.
- Be inspired! You can take this eclectic group of portrait artists as inspiration for your next artwork.
Thanks for Reading!
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