Jonathan Yeo - Career and Controversy

Career and Controversy

Yeo taught himself to paint in his early 20s while recovering from Hodgkin's Disease. In the early 2000s, he became known for his lifelike portraits of the rich and famous. Sitters included actor Dennis Hopper, Turner Prize-winning artist Grayson Perry, Saville Row tailor Ozwald Boateng, the media mogul Rupert Murdoch and British actress Minnie Driver. In 2005, his portrait of Erin O’Connor was widely used to advertise London's National Portrait Gallery.

Commissioned by the House of Commons to paint the three party leaders during the 2001 general election, Yeo's approach upset some backbench MPs. His triptych of Tony Blair, William Hague, and Charles Kennedy, Proportional Representation, was made up of canvases that were sized according to the subjects’ popularity. In 2003 he caused uproar at the highly conservative Royal Society of Portrait Painters by unveiling a full-frontal double nude of Ivan Massow, the entrepreneur and vocal patron of the arts.

In January 2008 Yeo's official portrait of former Prime Minister Tony Blair was unveiled and struck a public chord with its Iraq war reference. It showed an older and wearier-looking Blair wearing a dazzling red poppy - a recognisable symbol of war remembrance for the British. Maintaining the political subjects that have featured throughout his work, in 2009, Yeo unveiled a portrait of David Cameron, which was later sold in an auction in 2010 for £200,000.

Yeo is perhaps best known internationally for his portrayal of George W Bush. After a commission to paint the US president was reportedly awarded and then withdrawn, Yeo took it upon himself to create an image of the President anyway, making a collaged portrait from pornography. The work has led to Yeo exhibiting more collages – mainly portraits and nudes – made the same way.

In June 2008 Yeo had a sell out show at Lazarides Gallery, owned by Steve Lazarides, a specialist dealer in outsider and street art, well known for launching Banksy’s career. The show 'Blue Period' included the Bush porn portrait as well as new collages of Hugh Hefner and Lucian Freud.

It was reported that the George Bush collage was seized by Israeli customs on the way to the Banksy curated 'Santa's Ghetto' exhibition in Bethlehem in December 2007. Most recently it was widely reported that his collage of Paris Hilton, made the same way, was bought from an exhibition in New York by the British artist Damien Hirst.

'Porn in the USA' was Yeo's first US solo-show, also staged by Lazarides, it took place in Beverly Hills, Los Angeles, and was met by critical acclaim. Following on from the subversive success of 'Bush' (2007), this exhibition housed portraits of Tiger Woods, Sarah Palin and Hugh Hefner; all fashioned from pornographic collage cutouts.

Yeo is art consultant at Soho House group internationally, has co-curated the clubs worldwide, and designed the now notorious, subtly pornographic wallpaper that adorns many of its walls. Jonathan Yeo was a judge for the 2010 Art Fund Prize for museums. The prize worth £100,000 was awarded to the Ulster Museum.

Yeo had two works involved in the recent dispute over the sale of the late Dennis Hopper's art collection. He was one of only three artists to have been commissioned by the late Dennis Hopper to paint his portrait; Hopper described his work as 'timeless and exquisite'. Two other artists commissioned to paint Hopper include Andy Warhol and Julian Schnabel.

Famous sitters continue to commission Yeo to paint their portraits, including Prince Philip and Nicole Kidman, whilst it was reported in April 2011, that the Queen had commissioned Yeo to paint a portrait of David Attenborough for the Royal Collection.

Yeo now has several of his paintings in the collection of the National Portrait Gallery.

Read more about this topic:  Jonathan Yeo

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