Tranquil but arresting, Christian Charrière’s portraits of American icons offer a different take on our shared cultural heritage. Charrière paints important figures from film and music in black and white oil. His subjects are not performing, but they are showing us their most characteristic, natural expressions, which a viewer is likely to link instantly to that artist’s body of work. Though these “icons” are normally put on a distancing pedestal, Charrière provides us with an intimate view. They are seen from the neck up, filling the frame, looking the viewer directly in the eye. The close, almost confrontational perspective has a dual effect – it at once brings these celebrities near to us on our own scale, yet infuses their faces with fresh drama. The portraits are striking for their familiarity.
Charrière’s aesthetic is a type of uber-realism tinged with the wide range of his influences. His use of strong but diffuse light makes for quietly illuminated portrait work, and is partly inspired by Edward Hopper. In the portraits’ frontal, oversize compositions, Charrière mines the same kind of crackling energy that he finds in comic book panels. Texture is an essential component, especially in the different kinds of hair: short
stubble, groomed eyebrows, and luxurious long curls are all rendered painstakingly. Because there is no background or even body in many of the images, the viewer must wring all the information possible from small details like the sitter’s hair and grooming habits. Charrière’s subjects come with their narratives built in, but his work offers another view to add to the received history.
Christian Charrière was born in Paris and currently lives on the French island of Saint Barths. A self-taught artist, he has also painted a series of hats and handbags.