Michael Fullerton works in painting, printmaking, sculpture and film. Unusually for a contemporary artist, portraiture is a crucial part of his art. At first his painted portraits seem to be in the tradition of historical artists such as famous eighteenth-century painter Thomas Gainsborough. Indeed, he has frequently referred to Gainsborough as an influence. On closer inspection, however, and in combination with his other works, his paintings challenge many of the traditional assumptions of portraiture. They ask what kinds of people are portrayed and question how much information a painting can store about its subject. They investigate different kinds of representation and how representation might be related to power.
Fullerton’s choice of subjects is important. He paints individuals rather than situations, but he is drawn to figures whose lives are connected to complex political histories. He has depicted people including Paddy Hill, wrongfully convicted for an IRA bombing, a man jailed for anti-capitalist protest and a member of Glasgow’s Housing Benefit Anti-Fraud Unit.
Looking at the artist’s depiction of Alan Turing, can we grasp anything of his extraordinary life? Turing is well known as one of the pioneers of computing, and for his work breaking German codes in the Second World War. But Turing was also homosexual and was found guilty of ‘indecency’ in 1952, ‘treated’ with chemical castration and later committed suicide. Fullerton gives a sense of individuality and dignity to figures such as Turing but he is also aware that portraits can never fully represent a person’s complex history.
For his exhibition at Glasgow Print Studio, Fullerton has made portraits of figures related to issues of technology, communication and justice. They include Kim Dotcom, the controversial file-sharing entrepreneur charged by the United States with copyright infringements worth $500 million. Emory Douglas, who used printmaking to make propaganda images for the radical political group the Black Panthers, and Samuel Goldwyn, founder of the MGM film company, are also depicted. Closer to home, Fullerton has made a portrait of the current governor of Barlinnie Prison in Glasgow. Through these paintings Fullerton reflects on the changing ways in which images are produced and shared. Who owns images and whom do they serve?