Portraiture has seen numerous changes throughout different eras and while it is one of the oldest genres of art it has had to evolve greatly to become what it is today. Before photography was invented, portrait art was commonly used to depict individuals. However, commissioning portraits was restricted to the rich and powerful. Rather than paint their true likeness as is the case with portraiture today, these portraits were used to further implement illusions of grandeur. As a result portraiture was only used to communicate the power and perfection the rich wanted relayed. A good example would be the portraits of Elizabeth I who retained a youthful look in her portraits giving the illusion of vitality even as she aged.
With time, artists began to challenge this notion thus taking a leap from creating illusions to painting the actual likeness of their subjects. As a result portraits no longer depicted blemish free individuals in authoritative stances. The focus moved to everyday people and portraits began to express individuality. Famous artists such as Van Gogh and Pablo Picasso were famous for their success in the genre. Their work and those of other such artists has helped in shaping contemporary portrait art.
While contemporary portraiture is arguably one of the most popular genres, the genre has not been without challenges. For starters, photography has made it easier and significantly cheaper for people to capture their own likeness perfectly. You only have to have a phone or camera to take a picture thus removing the need for a painting. For this reason, not many people have their portraits taken any more. While this is an obstacle for artists, it has nevertheless inspired portrait art artists to express their subjects individuality and emotions in a way photography cannot. Fortunately, a good number of artists have managed this.
Elizabeth Peyton is one contemporary portrait artist that has enjoyed great success over the years. The American born artist attributes her inspiration to photography. She uses oil paint in most of her work but has also been known to use water colour, pencil and sketching. Peyton has depicted a variety of subjects in her work most of them close friends and boyfriends but has also done stunning paintings on celebrities and the British royal family.
Kehinde Wiley, a Nigerian-American artist, has also gotten recognition for his portraits among them being a portrait of the former US president Barrack Obama. His paintings which mostly depict black people is known to blur boundaries between traditional and contemporary. He fuses various period styles to depict masculinity and the status of African-American men in the society.
Lauren Brevner, another portrait artist is known for her depiction of femininity and power. Preferring to use wooden panels instead of canvas, she creates mixed media portraits that depict sensuality other than sexuality of women.
These three are among a few of the greatest contemporary portrait artists of our time. Artists have managed to turn the genre into a form of art that depicts individuals as their true selves turning contemporary portrait art into one of the most inspiring genres.