Monday 27 January 2020

What Lies Beneath: 'Putin' by David Booth

'Putin' by David Booth, Oil on canvas, Courtesy of the artist

'Putin' by David Booth.
'Putin' by David Booth.

Niall MacMonagle

Caesar Domitianus Augustus (51-96 AD), one of the 12 Caesars and one known for his reign of terror, liked, says Roman historian Suetonius, to spend an hour each day, on his own, catching flies and sticking pins in them.

Does today's ruler, sporty, outdoorsy Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin like to spend time killing flies?

Irish artist David Booth doesn't know either, but he's drawn to this "universal associative figure" and, in this recent portrait, three-time President Putin is a don't-mess-with-me presence. Mr Icy-eyes stares the viewer down. Putin on the Ritz, it ain't.

Booth, Dublin-born, grew up in Leixlip and is a graduate of Gorey School of Art. The thirty-year-old is now back in town. Up and out early, he cycles to his studio and puts in a twelve-hour day, with audio books and This American Life podcasts for company.

"The thing is to stay healthy in your head. I love speculative, dystopian fiction: HG Wells, Jules Verne, Orwell. Just listening to them, great movies are happening in my mind."

Putin has been portrayed as Muhammad Ali, Batman, Ghandi, Hercules; one image of him in women's underwear was seized by Russian Police.

Booth, in this prize-winning painting at this year's RHA Annual Exhibition, opts for a more restrained, high-definition mug shot.

"I wanted to create a deliberately two-dimensional kind of school- photograph quality for the neck and shoulders so that all attention was on the face."

He began with Putin's right eye, then his right ear and choosing a sickly hue for his palette, the portrait goes beyond its photographic source. The left ear is ochre, his left cheek looks unfinished giving the impression of a mask.

The more you stare the more mysterious and strange Mr Putin becomes. He looks drained but then that $2bn offshore trail that leads in his direction must be exhausting. And, look, he has no neck. Yeah. Sure. And those dry lips. "From kissing too many horses," jokes Booth. A pouting Putin? Poor Vlad. Get him lip gloss.

David Booth's Putin can be seen at the Annual RHA Exhibition, Gallagher Gallery, Dublin 2 until June 11.

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