Nanna Max Vonessamieh crosses disciplines between visual artist and literary critic with panache and witticism. The psychological portraits reveal as much about the discipline of the sitter as they do the expressive, and hence telling, hand of Vonessamieh. She accomplishes the revelation of her sometimes scathing opinion within a concentrated small portrait, often emphasizing an aspect of the personality, as in Harold Pinter's red nose. A closer examination of the rendering reveals a subversive imagery, almost as if the nose were another more intimate part of the anatomy. Much the same association is brought about by Colette's red tie. Famous for her stories of libertine adventures, the dainty Colette is given a foot into the masculine arena with her bright tie, and yet there is also a cheeky assertion of sexuality with the rude red phallic embellishment waving like a flag of liberation. The cuffs and cigarette top off the forceful presentation. Virginia Woolf, very much a woman of her time, when the parlour was the dominant domain for women, has a wiser aspect, more accepting of her gender's limitations. There is also a Vonessamieh portrait of Woolf with a cigarette, the social renegade beginning to surface. Bukowski looks boozy but elegant, confident and almost challenging with his informal lounging. Tales of his misogynistic lifestyle and alcoholic demonstrations of frustration are exhumed with the smudgy pencil work.
There is evidence of a searching examination of the inner spirit of each of Vonessamieh's sitters. And yet they haven't all sat for her. In many, she has not known the way that they would influences and inhabit her space other than through faded photographs that document their existence. A true historical researcher, like the revitalization of objects by their exhibition in museums, she breath life back into their departed physical presence and they become known not only for their work, their art, but for the way that their genius showed through in their physical presence. Nanna Max Vonessamieh reveals more of them than was hitherto understood (even when they are still living and simply 'no longer sitting there' as with Martin Amis). She assists their genius as it shines through the graphite to illuminates their work.
Copyright © 2007, Julie Oakes