Proto portrait consists of a tray-like wooden board painted with gold gouache and enamel paint, both of which were chosen for their ornamental and reflective qualities. The four sides of the wooden support are carefully painted to emphasise the work’s status as a three-dimensional object. Non-figurative elements made of unfired clay have been painted with silver gouache and occupy the surface of the gold board. The clay was rolled out and repeatedly pierced before being applied to the board, giving these forms an organic look. The large scale of this work is unusual within Tompkins’s overall practice. It relates to three other paintings of this size all made in 2008 – Doc, Arrival, and Pike – into which the artist inserted objects and digital photographs.
Tompkins titled the work Proto portrait because she initially envisaged it to be a self-portrait, or a portrait of someone not yet formed: ‘this is the primary being, or first stage, an embryonic stage of a sentient breathing person. As if it is an early portrait, not fully formed, but growing, transitional, transforming. Broken, like partial information. But essentially in the process of forming.’ (Email correspondence with Tate curator Katharine Stout, 2 May 2011.)
Tompkins makes paintings in watercolour and gouache on small fragments of board, sheets of paper and at times directly onto the wall, and also applies paint to found and constructed objects. Other examples which demonstrate the range of her practice are Architecture 2004 (Tate T13539), Day Series 2007 (Tate T13535), Metabuilt II 2008 (Tate T13538), Metabuilt XXIV 2009 (Tate T13537) and No Title 2011 (Tate T13540).
Daniel Baumann, Pati Hertling and Karla Black, Hayley Tompkins, Edinburgh 2011.
Nicola Moorby and Katharine Stout, ‘Abstraction and Improvisation’, in Alison Smith (ed.), Watercolour, exhibition catalogue, Tate Britain, London 2011, pp.184–5, 195.