British artist turning selfies into fine art

Fine art aficionados are probably unlikely to ever see the trend of ‘selfies’ as anything more than an exercise in crass narcissism that lacks the finesse, skill, and emotional insight that comes with a piece of fine art.
While the antics of otherwise minor celebrities have further damaged the cause of the selfie, its place in the culture of wider society has nevertheless become significantly more pronounced.
The worth of the selfie may still be up for debate, but the line between superficial vanity and the emotionally powerful is set to become increasingly blurred.

Combining selfies with painting

British artist Jonathan Yeo is one member of the art community to recognise the similarities between the previously separated camps.
Yeo’s so convinced by the similarities, he has placed the concept of the selfie at the heart of a new retrospective at Denmark’s Museum of National History, which features painted portraits of two women known for their enthusiasm for taking pictures of themselves.
One is supermodel, actor and Instagram icon Cara Delevingne, who posed for the artist six times in the last 15 months, while the other is Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt, who was criticised for taking a selfie with US President Barack Obama and UK Prime Minister David Cameron at the 2013 funeral for Nelson Mandela.

Important period for self-portraits

The event will cover the past 25 years of Yeo’s career, but the artist himself said that the last five years have been particularly interesting in terms of how the self-portrait, and indeed the selfie,  has developed.
In a statement ahead of the retrospective, he said: “The way we manipulate and read self-portrait images, or ‘selfies’, in the last five years has far more in common with the activity of the 16th-century portrait artists and audiences than any art movement since the birth of photography.”

Other powerful faces

The exhibit’s portfolio of portraits are wide-reaching, with other high-profile figures also immortalised by Yeo, including Malala Yousafzai and Nicole Kidman.
There’s also a place for Kevin Spacey, whose character in House of Cards, Frank Underwood, was the subject of a recent Yeo portrait that hung in Washington’s National Portrait Gallery.
And Yeo is convinced that the success is helping to further promote painting, which he says is more alive than ever before, adding that the increasingly ubiquitous presence of digital photography can actually serve to complement the traditional painted portrait.
He said: “Just a few years ago everyone thought the camera had killed painting, but we are starting to see it has actually saved it.
“Thanks to camera phones, and social media such as Instagram, we are all starting to think like painters.”