8 Portrait Artists Redefining Portraiture

Did you know the Mona Lisa was painted on a 2-foot, 6-inch by 1-foot, 9-inch poplar panel?

Compared to other famous portraits, this is actually pretty small. Regardless, Leonardo da Vinci’s painting is arguably one of the most popular (and well-known) portraits in existence.

The art world has been blessed with many unbelievable portrait artists—Frida Kahlo, van Gogh, Francis Bacon, Picasso, Rembrandt; each with their own style, flair, subject matter, and social context. Each are important and special for their own unique reasons.

So with all the talent in the world, who should art students or lovers pay attention to?

We list 8 portrait artists that are revolutionizing the genre of “portraiture” in various exciting ways. Keep reading!

  1. Lauren Brevner 

Lauren Brevner is a self-taught mixed media artist.

Brevner grew up in a mixed-heritage family, which contributed endless inspiration and culture, and ultimately finds its way into her gripping portraits. She also studied under Sin Nakayamal in Japan in 2009, which is the true origin of her art journey.

She uses oil, acrylic, and resin, and her portraits depict the female form.

  1. Kehinde Wiley 

Kehinde Wiley is an American portrait artist known for his incredibly life-like portraits of black people.

He “paints as a political act,” drawing in elements of gender, sexuality, identity, race, and class. He began studying art as a child in LA and now paints in New York, where he regularly holds model castings on the streets.

His paintings are also inspired by noblemen, royalty, and aristocrats, whose poses are reflected in his modern-day portraits. His subjects regularly hold strong, heroic poses such as those from the aristocratic era.

  1. Daniel Greene

Daniel Greene is widely known for being the first and foremost pastel artist in the United States.

Still, his portraits cover a range of mediums, including oil, but they primarily stay within pastels, his true passion.

He used to teach painting at the National Academy of Design and the Art Students League of New York. He’s also the author of two books, Pastel and The Art of Pastel, which likely contributed to his ultimate accolade in the Pastel Hall of Fame. This honor was granted to him by the Pastel Society of America itself in 1983.

  1. Eric Daigh

The portrait artist Eric Daigh is truly reinventing portraiture, as he uses a medium not widely used by other artists: pushpins.

Each portrait he does requires about 11,000 pushpins, which he tediously puts in posterboard, one by one. He sticks with blue, red, white, and yellow, and spraypaints green pushpins black so he can use those too. (Apparently, they don’t sell black pushpins!)

Get up close, and you’ll see each pin in all its glory. Stand back, and you’ll see them come together to create a portrait. The portraits are true-to-form too, proving that even mediums like pushpins can bring art to life. Some even use a recolor image online tool.

  1. Cindy Sherman 

Cindy Sherman is a contemporary self-portrait artist, and a renowned one at that.

Her portraits are anything but bland. Instead, they depict her in several ways (different poses, makeup, outfits, backdrop, wigs), each an homage to the representation of women. For over 30 years, Sherman has been her own model.

Her art form requires her to do many roles at once; makeup artist, hairdresser, and photographer. The result is a wide range of characters that depict anything from socialites to sirens.

For fans of photographed portraits, you may also want to check out Did the Earth Move for You?, a series of portraits of creative, young, fresh LA subjects. Check it out here.

And speaking of photographs…

  1. Rineke Dijkstra 

For a profoundly complex collection of honest, real-life photographs, you’ll want to learn about the photographer Rineke Dijkstra.

Her collection stems back to the early 1990s. Her photos are large-scale, usually of adolescents, and compare to Dutch paintings in their size and visual sharpness.

Her photos are little more than their subject matter, which encourages viewers to study the relationship between them and the subject, and between the subject and the photographer.

  1. JR

JR is a photographer and street artist with “the largest art gallery in the world.”

The reason? Because his photographs become memorialized worldwide on walls as supersized versions of themselves (28 millimeters, to be exact). The world is his stage, his art gallery.

Because of this, JR’s photos are always free, making them extremely accessible, especially for those who wouldn’t normally step foot in an art museum.

His work is known as “infiltrating art,” as it pushes boundaries.

  1. Nan Goldin

Nan Goldin’s photos are deeply personal, with inspiration coming from her own life and the elements of her time as a person born in the 1950s.

Her portraits follow her and her closest comrades, many of which focus on issues plaguing LGBTQ communities (such as HIV, or the heroin-addicted subculture within it).

One of her more famous works, The Ballad of Sexual Dependency, is a 700-photograph slideshow that depicts her time in New York in the ’80s. And it’s safe to say her life wasn’t always glamorous—in fact, it was pretty raw. And yet, her images are touching, real, and honest, genuinely evoking emotion from the viewer.

Watch These Portrait Artists

If you want to see people redefining portraiture while still remaining true to the origin of portraits, then watch these artists.

For several reasons, they’re breaking the mold—innovating this art form that’s been around for centuries. These portrait artists aren’t scared of causing a ruckus. In fact, that’s usually the point.

We’ve got more interesting content like this on our page. Keep scrolling for more fascinating things you can tell your friends and family!

About RJ Frometa

Head Honcho, Editor in Chief and writer here on VENTS. I don't like walking on the beach, but I love playing the guitar and geeking out about music. I am also a movie maniac and 6 hours sleeper.

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