A young, London-based artist holding his first solo exhibition at the Albemarle Gallery, London next month (March) says he hopes his re-working of a Renaissance painting technique will open the contemporary art scene up to a wider audience.
Following on the success he achieved during a group exhibition at the Albemarle in 2000, Toby Boothman's new exhibition also proves there is still a great need to explore depictions of the human form in the 21st Century.
Working from his East End studio, located at the heart of a creative community based in a former factory space in Bow, the artist has embraced the centuries-old "Technique Mixed", to create representations of ! modern living, and a 'visual lexicon', or language, that aims to integrate viewers and avoid alienating them with specific meanings.
For each of his 24 paintings he has drawn on a range of subjects - including still life, portraits and nudes - to create what he describes as individual "visual hits" instead of one overall theme.
By adapting the Renaissance "Technique Mixed" - a method similar to that used by the Flemish Renaissance Master Jan Van Eyck, which combines layers of egg with oil glazes - and by manipulating a series of photographic images on computer software, each of Boothman's work remains unique but inextricably linked through his distinct use of strong light.
The result is that the artist captures seemingly fast, 'snap-shot' moments taken from the public and private life of the society around him, which actively encourages the viewer to assume the role of a silent voyeur.
Boothman says he welcomes this interpretation of his paintings, but insists the clarity of the technique means no textual e xplanations are necessary to understand his work.
In a pair of oil on panel works - Portrait of Caz with Turban - two separate portraits show the same, young girl wearing a headdress, seated in different poses and bearing an enigmatic or mysterious smile.
The painting is devoid of any pointers of time and location and the viewer is given no clues to the sitter's identity. Is she English or foreign? Does she come from a wealthy background or does her headdress suggest she could be a servant?
The tilted position of the head pays tribute to the similar pose in Vermeer's Girl with a Pearl Earring, but Boothman says he has not deliberately included such historic subtleties, because they are not integral to a reading of the painting.
A lack of background and the 'centuries-old' look further adds to the ambiguity, but by removing points of reference he insists it is a step towards the 'accessible' language he is trying to achieve.
When he talks, the 29-year-old artist says he has no intention to sit down and categorically explain his work, even when paintings include specific references to contemporary settings or modern clothing.
He says: " My work is not elitist and I don't encourage the idea of alienating people from art through textual descriptions. What is the point in having explanatory cards to accompany my work and detract you, the viewer, from the visual experience I am trying to create?"
"My choice of subject matter is borne out of a visual idea, rather than a conscious decision to paint a certain person or setting. Sometimes I get ideas from wanting to push the medium to its limits, to explore different effects of light or chiaroscuro, but once an idea is mapped out, I don't strictly control what happens next."
"I view a model the way a fashion photographer sees his model - a specific identity should not detract from the visual process and the creation of something that i! s aesthetically beautiful."