Once you start looking, you’ll notice that magazines, billboards, and TV ads are packed with advice on “how to look younger”, “how to delay ageing”, “how to look 25 at 50”, and cosmetic (and surgical) options to keep you appearing young. We are terrified of ageing, because – especially as women – we have been told from childhood (whether directly or indirectly) that there is a brief window of time between 18 and 24 when we are most beautiful, most desirable, and our achievements are most applaudable. How many “50 is the new 40” cards, mugs, and t-shirts do we need before we accept that 50 is… well, 50.
It was eye opening doing the research for this listicle, scrolling through hundreds of posts on Instagram to find suitable artists. Face after face after face was visibly under 30, or at least ambiguously “youthful” in that there were no signs of lines, greys, or facial changes that would indicate the figure being anywhere over 25. It’s easy to think of low-detailed portraits as “relatable” when you’re in your early 20s, because they always look like you. Probably less so when you’re in your early 50s.
We want to shine a light on a handful of artists who are showing the true beauty and power of ageing. Ageing is a gift that isn’t guaranteed, and fearing it will bring us nowhere. Time to expand our beauty standards.
Jess Cochrane (@jesscochrane____)
‘Disinterested In Your Standard’, 2020 – Jess Cochrane
Australian artist Jess Cochrane paints over the intimate photographs she takes of her sitters, adding new dimensions to the image. We love how this work highlights that fashion is ageless, and the sitter appears so powerful as she holds us in her stare. She’s in charge and she knows it.
Ishbel Myerscough (@ishbelmyerscough)
‘Portrait of Lily Ebert’, 2021 – Ishbel Mysercough
We adore this portrait that Ishbel Mysercough made between 2020 & 2021 of holocaust survivor Lily Ebert, as part of a 7 portrait series by 7 artists showing survivors commissioned by HRH The Prince of Wales. Aside from Lily’s amazing personality which shines through, our favourite thing is how lovingly Mysercough paints each fold, wrinkle, and tonal change of her skin. Isn’t it sad how rarely we see portraits with realistic skin texture?
Julie Held (@julie.held)
2021 – Julie Held
We love how in London-based artist Julie Held’s portfolio, sitters over 40 aren’t the exception to the rule, they appear regularly and organically – and with no less vigour and vivacity than her younger sitters. This garden study has such hypnotising colours, and we love the illuminocity Held gives her figures’ skin tone.
Megan Hunter (@meg.m.artist)
‘Nana Kilby’, 2020 – Megan Hunter
Megan Hunter has an incredible skill for capturing her sitter’s personalities, and ‘Nana Kirby’ radiates with cheeky, soft beauty. We love how the the artist has chosen to keep the background plain and light, drawing all of our attention to the intricate details of her sitter’s face.
Julia Bugram (@_.jubu._)
From the ‘Sexualisierung & Selbstbestimmung’ Series, 2021 – Julia Bugram
Julia Bugram’ selectedly-complete portraits play on the idea of what is truly visible to society. We completely adore this drawing of an older woman, fist raised to the sky to declare “SMASH THE PATRIARCHY”, glass in hand. Ageing isn’t only natural – it’s empowering.
Hassan Hajjaj (@hassanhajjaj_larache)
‘Lorraine O’Grady’ 2021 – Hassan Hajjaj
Legendary artist, critic, and translator Lorraine O’Grady is captured so impactfully here by Hassan Hajjaj, at the age of 86. Hajjaj’s choice of backgrounds, fabrics, and patterns makes her look almost deity-like. Side note: how incredible is it that this photograph was taken while O’Grady was in NYC and Hajjaj was in Marrakech?
Edward Povey (@edwardpovey)
Detail from ‘The Misunderstood’, 2019-2020 – Edward Povey
We love Edward Povey’s intense, coldly-lit portraits which show his sitters in all of their textured-skin detail. Society is remarkably bad at representing people in their middle age in arts and culture – we often see people under 25s or over 65s represented, with a void in the middle. It is so important to increase visibility of and opportunities for over 30s, especially women.
Luca De Angelis (@lucade.angelis)
‘Straperetana’, 2021 – Luca De Angelis
Luca de Angelis’ figures are often moody and contemplative, and we are mesmerised each time we see one of his recent works by the deep grooves he chisels into his characters’ faces. With expressions almost like oracles having a vision, these paintings make us think of the wisdom that comes with age.
Author: Verity Babbs