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The CAS acquires a self portrait by Gillian Wearing for Rugby Art Gallery and Museum, capturing the artist's state of mind in lockdown

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oil on board

The Contemporary Art Society has supported the acquisition of a new self-portrait by Turner Prize winner Gillian Wearing, for Rugby Art Gallery and Museum. A YBA and conceptual artist, Wearing’s films and photographs explore the expression of identity in public and personal spaces, often featuring her family members. This acquisition is a departure from the documentary method of film and portraits Wearing is known for. Untitled is a self-portrait in oil capturing the artist's personal experiences during lockdown.

The painting captures the elements of her practice that are concerned with portraying identity within the private and the public spaces we inhabit, blurring the lines between reality and fiction. Wearing is depicted gazing into the distance looking forlorn, an expression so powerful that the presence is undeniable. Conveying a different side to Wearing, one that is inherently vulnerable, causes the viewer to think deeply of isolation and loss. Wearing created a series of self-portraits in watercolour and oil that documented her state of mind during lockdown. The impact of the pandemic on the arts has been widely documented with visual artists having to delay projects and exhibitions. The series Gillian Wearing is a visual representation capturing the anxiety faced by many within and beyond the arts and heritage sector.

Portraiture is well represented at Rugby Art Gallery and Museum, which has embarked on a new project titled ‘Let’s Make Social History’ during lockdown to engage their local audience to discuss their wellbeing. As many conversations centred around mental health, the poise and gaze of Untitled may resonate with the audience, causing them to reflect on their own experiences. The curators are also interested in collecting female artists to redress the gender imbalance within the collection, with an emphasis on identity projected through contemporary portraiture. Adding Untitled to the collection will join figurative work by Claudette Johnson and Lubaina Himid, facilitating discussions around social and cultural identity.

Gillian Wearing CBE RA (b.1963, Birmingham, UK) lives and works in London. Recent solo exhibitions include Guggenheim Museum, New York (2021); Maureen Paley, London (2020); and Moody Center for The Arts, Houston, Texas (2019). Recent group exhibitions include Kunstmuseum Bonn, Berlin (2021); Pallant House Gallery, Chichester UK (2021); and The National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Seoul, South Korea (2021). In 1997, Gillian Wearing won the Turner Prize and in 2018 she was commissioned to make a statue of suffragist Millicent Fawcett that has been erected in Parliament Square, London.

Presented by the Contemporary Art Society with support from the V&A Purchase Grant Fund, Rugby Art Gallery and Museum and the Zabludowicz Collection, 2020/21