Jonathan Yeo exhibition at The Bowes Museum aims to capture the lengths people will go to in search of beauty
By Lyndsay Oxley - Reporter
COSMETIC surgery and the quest for physical perfection have inspired a UK exclusive exhibition which has arrived in Barnard Castle.
British artist Jonathan Yeo is acclaimed worldwide for his portraits of public figures including Nicole Kidman, Cara Delevingne, Damien Hirst, Tony Blair and members of the Royal family.
Alongside his portraiture, Mr Yeo has explored the complex issues surrounding the current cult for cosmetic surgery in his Surgery Series which he has been working on for the past decade.
This collection of artwork is currently on display at The Bowes Museum. The exhibition, Skin Deep, is the first major display of the series of paintings and includes a mix of well-known and never before seen oil paintings charting the latest developments in aesthetic enhancement.
The 47-year-old has observed cosmetic surgeons at first hand and worked from photos both he and they have taken in theatre to create the pieces which show patients in pre and post-operative states.
Mr Yeo said: “The exhibition tells so many stories about the things we do in pursuit of beauty and the pressures we feel to look a certain way.
“As a portrait artist I am interested in faces and the story they tell. I have spent my life working on the other side. I was very interested in the mechanics of it. When people start having facelifts and other surgical operations on their faces, it starts to change their non-verbal communication. Their face starts to tell a different story.
“It goes beyond people being obsessed with looking younger. For me, it is something which takes away their identity,” he said.
“I’m documenting the artistry as plastic surgeons really understand the structure of the human body.
“In the most fundamental way, they are sculpting with bodies and there’s an artistry, combined with a casual savagery, to the way they mark their patients before surgery.
“The markings on the skin are where a knife is going to be going through. That creates an extra layer and makes the artwork more sinister with a threatening undertone, which I think is interesting.”
Miles Berry, who was one of the cosmetic surgeons who Mr Yeo worked alongside, attended the exhibition’s launch last week. It officially opened to the public on Saturday and will run until June 17.
Illustrations from The Bowes Museum’s own art collection, which reference how beauty and identity have been portrayed in art throughout the centuries, are also be on display. Various other events, which explore themes surrounding body image, will run alongside the exhibition.
Mr Yeo said: “I think it will be a good thing if my work provokes different reactions then people will debate it. It is the first time it has all been on show together and the first time any of it has been shown in a public museum. I think it is quite brave of them here.
“I am very aware that there are people against cosmetic surgery and people who see it as a great way of making themselves look better.
“Some people see it as the same as having their hair done. I think that it is a much more serious thing. From the beginning I was determined to keep an open mind. I am really interested to see how people react.”
Leo Rotaru, marketing assistant at the museum, added: “It is very different for the museum and I think it is probably going to be quite controversial but we are not taking any stances.
“Jonathan is an amazing artist and is well known for his portraits.
“The paintings are very realistic but they do leave a bit to the imagination. It is going to be interesting to see the reaction of the public. I personally think there will be mixed views but people should keep an open mind and admire the work itself. It is quite beautiful to look at.”