In 2001, Lucian Freud outraged the U.K. when he unveiled his six-by-nine-inch portrait of Queen Elizabeth II. While some critics praised its harsh depiction of the aging monarch (who had granted sittings with the artist), others were furious that their country’s figurehead was rendered in such a disrespectful, unflattering light. The Queen never expressed her opinion on the final result, but she must have known what she was getting into: Freud, the grandson of the infamous psychiatrist, is known for harshly exaggerating the flaws of his subjects.
Toronto artist Reverend Aitor takes the art of the unflattering portrait even further. Willing subjects commission him to scrawl their likeness but with their most gruesome imperfections highlighted front-and-centre. The results are delightful monstrosities, both offensive and honest. The subjects are brave, but with an obvious sense of humour.
We asked the good Reverend about what’s good about the bad and the ugly.
Torontoist: What do you think makes people voluntarily want to hideously magnify their imperfections?
Reverend Aitor: I think some people are simply curious about what exactly a hideous version of themselves will look like. Other times, I feel they are testing their perceptions of themselves against what someone else sees. I’ve definitely had people point out so-called flaws that I’ve missed—little details that didn’t catch my attention, but which possibly stand out in their minds when they look in the mirror.
Because you focus on every wrinkle and zit to draw a portrait, do you find yourself noticing these things more in your everyday interaction with people?
While I don’t stare nearly as intently at people’s skin in my regular interactions as I do while working on a portrait, I think I’ve always noticed zits and scars, chipped teeth and lazy eyes. I think most people do when looking at another person for any length of time. That’s what happens when advertising saturates our daily lives. I need only look down from the models in subway advertisements to the passengers sitting directly below them to be struck by how ugly everybody is.
Is there a beauty in displaying the features that we normally cover up?
I think there’s a world of difference between using a little extra pomade in trying to look one’s best for the yearbook picture and using Photoshop to erase every blemish, scar, and pockmark. My portraits are morbid exaggerations, so I am going a little far in the other direction, but I do believe our cauliflower ears and weak chins are just as much a part of us as our bedroom eyes and pouty lips—and therefore just as valid. Flaws are really only validated as such once we start omitting them. Until then they only help our best features look all the better by comparison.
Do you find that some people are tough to make an unflattering portrait of?
Some people are certainly more challenging to draw than others, not because they’re strikingly beautiful, but because they don’t have striking features. Very young children, for instance, are often a challenge because their faces are often so smooth and round and symmetrical. Their sebaceous glands have yet to betray them and they seldom have any character lines for me to exaggerate. The less there is to exaggerate, the less I have to work with.
When you do these while-you-wait portraits, how long does it usually take?
The live portraits take about forty-five minutes and have been know to drag on beyond an hour. Halfway through a sitting, a subject will often get bored and tired and let their guard down. That’s usually when I can really get down to work—when they’ve stopped posing.
Reverend Aitor can be encountered at various art shows around Canada and the U.S. and will be happy to do justice to your ugly mug too.
All photos by The Sweetie Pie Press.