I guess painters get the equivalent of writer’s block – facing a blank canvas, brush in hand, waiting for inspiration. But, if every day, you know exactly what you are going to paint, no problem. And if your theme never varies, it’s a win-win situation.
Philip Akkerman is such an artist. He knows his model will always available, night or day, come rain or shine. Mr Akkerman’s subject is always the same – himself. He has been painting small self-portraits on panels for the past forty years on an industrial scale. His current exhibition at Galerie de Zaal in Delft is showing one painting from each of those years in chronological order and an amazing in insightful array it makes. It is often said that we would all benefit from seeing ourselves as others see us but I don’t think anyone could reveal more about this artist than he has seen for himself.
The paintings, all just heads, range in style and content from photo-realist to abstract, from neo-Dali to Francis Bacon. There is one where the face is completely obliterated by daubs of black paint and others where he looks as though he is in make-up for a horror movie. Are these deep, angst-filled explorations into his own psyche or are they arbitrary variations on a tried and tested format? I think the former, although I suspect there is an element of the latter. Does he always stand before a mirror or do the reflections come from deep inside, the actual facial features long since memorised? It must be said that there are no happy portraits here, no smiles. There are, however, lots of grotesque, disturbed and disturbing images.
Above all, the pictures are beautifully painted. No matter what style he chooses on any particular day, the application of oils and/or tempera on small (average about 40 x 30 cms) wooden panels demonstrates the touch of an old master. His palette is often muted, often bright and garish, but always right for the right picture.
Once you have accepted that there is only one subject, there is something in this exhibition for everyone to admire, something for everyone to like and everyone to dislike. A man for all seasons. Michael Hasted 6th February 2023
Philip Akkerman at Galerie de Zaal in Delft continues until 19th March