Connect>Create 2008

Philip Akkerman, 'Self Portrait 1999 No. 74'

Philip Akkerman was born in Vaassen, the Netherlands, in 1957. He studied at the Royal Academy of Visual Arts, The Hague, and Ateliers in Haarlem.


Akkerman started out on his artistic path exploring Abstract and Conceptual ideas. He also explored photography and sculpture, as well as trying out many different painting styles. He decided to return to painting self portraits for a few months, and after two years he realised he didn’t want to change to another subject again. He made the decision to go on painting his own portrait for the rest of his painting life.


Akkerman’s paintings are executed with the working methods of the Old Masters. He divides the working process into three stages. Firstly there’s the drawing, then the light and dark shading and finally the colour. Most painters, now, approach these three stages with one single layer of paint, but for Akkerman, the methods he uses gives greater control over the result.  Akkerman himself quotes “ I am in the first place a painter. I love to paint and to look at paintings – that’s all. ‘Innovations’ and ‘topics’ mean nothing to me.”(see links)


The fact the number of his paintings, of the same subject, run into the thousands, over many years, corroborates his statement. With the dilemma of what to paint sorted out, he can fully concentrate and indulge in the act of painting.  Looking back at Akkerman’s work, the self portraits provide, in paint, a chronicle of his life. The paintings show time progressing as Akkerman gradually ages. The portraits range from the image of a young man, with thick full hair, to the latest portrait that shows Akkerman with slightly thinning hair and sagging skin. This recording of time passing, of a life being lived, celebrated in paint, makes interesting viewing, although I would doubt that this was his main motive for embarking on the lifetimes work.


Focussing on the same subject would afford Akkerman a freedom to concentrate on the paint and the painting in progress, rather than ideas about the work, or what the end result should be, or ‘say’. His love of painting, and the actual medium, and all of its considerations are probably paramount. His image is observed very intensely, reflected back to him in a mirror. He picks out and describes, often with exaggeration, those bits of the subject that beg to be painted. He uses light and shade effectively to add interest and variation. He also plays with colour relationships to great effect, and varies the light sources, from natural lighting, to the yellow glow of electric lighting.


Akkerman’s choosing of just one subject, his self portrait, may at first seem limiting, but his observation and interpretation of it is in-exhaustive. The actual physical changes, due to ageing, in his appearance provide fresh observations to express, but it is his own subjective perception and responses to his reflection that are endless. His portraits do not aim to provide any variations through contrived sentiments, he doesn’t hint at emotion with facial expressions. The portraits invariably convey an intense concentration of Akkerman at work. He does however exaggerate slightly some of his observations, his works, for me, do contain that element of a caricature – or maybe this effect is emphasized by viewing a group of his portraits together. The intensity of his portraits is heightened by the multiple pairs of eyes staring back at you. In the first instance Akkerman would have been observing himself in the mirror, and this intensity is transferred back to the viewer, when we come to view the self portraits. His works are often viewed in groups, and often give a chronological account of the painter’s life, as with Art in general, this doesn’t always deliver the whole story.


I doubt whilst concentrating on painting any single portrait, Akkerman was thinking about the other two thousand, and how they would be interpreted together, or in groups. I reckon all that mattered was that particular painting at that time. It’s we the viewer who project meaning onto them as a whole, and maybe attempt to squeeze out content that might not actually be there. But there again Akkerman’s work definitely shows that there are thousands of possible interpretations of one subject, and that one person has far too many ‘layers’ to be depicted in just one painting.


Included in the Ferens Art Gallery collection are Akkerman's

Self Portrait 1986 No. 43, Self Portrait 1991 No.10, Self Portrait 1995 No. 68, and Self Portrait 1997 No. 43.


By Sharon Coals, student from the BA (hons) Contemporary Fine Art Course, Hull School of Art and Design 2009


Document icon Learning article provided by: Ferens Art Gallery, Hull | 
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