Portraiture has a ‘grand’ tradition; one that goes back to the very first attempts to represent oneself in relation to the world, and graphically illustrate a sense of belonging and identity. The genre and its vocabulary has developed significantly since the first scratchings into cave walls. By the 20th century it had become closely identified with representations of aristocracy, the wealthy and renditions of political and historical luminaries.
However there is always a development or transformation of any language over time, and merely because portraiture became such a well rehearsed science by no means ensured that it could not or should not be further developed or mutated. Richard Brilliant in his exploration of the genre embraced the broad potentials for portraiture by defining the desire to make portraits as “a response to the natural human tendency to think about oneself, of oneself in relation to others, and others in apparent relation to themselves and to others. ‘To put a face on the world’ catches the essence of ordinary behaviour in the social context.”
This is the key to understanding some seemingly radical shifts in some contemporary artistic practice and especially in the genre that is portraiture. Some of these personify a move away from direct mimetic representations of the individual and toward a realm which is deliberately generic.
This is not an unconscious desire to undermine the importance of commissioned portraiture, but a pragmatic one to see where the practice of portraiture is today in New Zealand, by New Zealand artists.
The term portraiture is used as a conduit through which the combination of the established and well understood language of portraiture is mingled with the all important desire to be socially responsive and have contemporary relevance.
 Richard Brilliant. Portraiture, 1997. Reaktion Books, London, p. 14
→ Portraiture: the art of social commentary, 2003, exhibition card
→ Facing up to portrait show, Eastern Courier, 25-06-2003