In this occasional series, Fine Art Today delves into the world of portraiture, highlighting historical and contemporary examples of superb quality and skill. This week: Michael Gaskell, “Harry.”
The mark of a skilled portraitist is the ability to capture a sitter’s presence to the degree that they seem to occupy the room. Significantly, this quality is much more than the sum of pigment, binder, and — in this week’s case — a wooden panel. Indeed, it seems impossible to adequately describe the ways in which a talented artist captures an individual’s essence, personality, or soul — all elements seemingly invisible. Michael Gaskell’s 2010 portrait titled “Harry” is one such example, the striking visage of a young man that grips the viewer with intensity. The picture’s story is noteworthy as well.
The tale of Gaskell’s 2010 portrait “Harry” is a fascinating one, not typically encountered in portraiture — but the result is unmistakably profound and extraordinary. Emerging from a completely darkened background is the black youth “Harry,” who gazes towards the viewer’s left with an expression of stern confidence and determined vision. Amazingly, Gaskell became acquainted with his subject through the portraiture process, not having known “Harry” before its execution. Gaskell recalls having seen the young man in a grocery store and — compelled by unknown forces — was struck by his visage and presence. Through the picture’s process, Gaskell came to intimately know Harry’s visage and personality, and the resulting portrait is compelling.
This article was featured in Fine Art Today, a weekly e-newsletter from Fine Art Connoisseur magazine. To start receiving Fine Art Today for free, click here.

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Andrew Webster is the former Editor of Fine Art Today and worked as an editorial and creative marketing assistant for Streamline Publishing. Andrew graduated from The University of North Carolina at Asheville with a B.A. in Art History and Ceramics. He then moved on to the University of Oregon, where he completed an M.A. in Art History. Studying under scholar Kathleen Nicholson, he completed a thesis project that investigated the peculiar practice of embedded self-portraiture within Christian imagery during the 15th and early 16th centuries in Italy.


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