LONDON.- The National Portrait Gallery unveiled a commissioned portrait of the Nobel Prize winning scientist, Sir Paul Nurse. The portrait, by acclaimed British artist Jason Brooks, is the largest realist painting that the National Portrait Gallery has acquired.
The portrait of Sir Paul Nurse was developed through a series of meetings between artist and sitter in New York and London. Without overtly referencing Nurse's biological research, Brooks explores through his painting process the scientist's essential make-up and structure. The painting, a large-scale black and white close-up of the scientist's face, cropped to give a cinematic effect, shows every pore, follicle and every trace of time worn into the human face. 'I didn't want it to reference science overtly,' he explains 'but it does explore genealogy, the make-up of the human form.' From a distance the painting is sharply defined, but close-up it is made up of abstracted forms; an attempt, in the artist's words, to 'get lost in somebody's structure'.
Sir Paul Nurse (b 1949) was awarded the 2001 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine (jointly with Dr Tim Hung and Dr Leland Hartwell) for his work on the genes that regulate the cell division cycle. His important discoveries have improved our understanding of how cancer cells divide. He was formerly Chief Executive of Cancer Research UK, the largest charity in the United Kingdom. He has been President of Rockefeller University in New York since 2003, where he continues his research. He was awarded the Royal Society's Copley Medal in 2005.
The portrait of Sir Paul will be displayed alongside two other portraits by the artist - a painting of Formula One racing driver Jenson Button, and an earlier work entitled 'Zoe' taken from the Tattooed series. All three portraits relate to Brooks's fascination with mortality and the fugitive image: Nurse is a pioneering scientist who specialises in cancer research; Jenson Button is engaged in a death-defying sport and Zoe endures pain to decorate her body with permanent tattoos. 'What's really important to me,' says Brooks 'is having that pornographic gaze, that forensic detail. The flaws, the marks - they're the things that I fall in love with.'
Brooks uses his own large-format photographs as the source material for his painting, although he does not regard himself as a photorealist. 'My work is ephemeral,' he says 'and that relates to photography, the funereal aspect of photography, capturing that frozen moment.'
He applies paint with precision using an airbrush to create every detail. By using this tool Brooks intentionally creates a dispassionate distance between himself and the subject.
Jason Brooks (b1968) studied at Cheltenham College of Art and Chelsea College of Art, London. He was a prize-winner in John Moores 20 in 1997 and won the NatWest Art Prize in 1999. He exhibits regularly at Stellan Holm Gallery in New York. His work is held in collections abroad and in the United Kingdom including the Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool and the Saatchi Collection, London.
Sandy Nairne, Director of the National Portrait Gallery, London says 'Paul Nurse is given extraordinary, literal and large-scale form in Jason Brooks's portrait - it is a tour de force.'