5-3-2A   Research : Gwen Hardie

Gwen Hardie is an artist who makes careful drawings and paintings of small areas of her own skin.


Gwen Hardie works primarily on round or oval canvases for her paintings that she makes from the close-ups of her skin.  She paints what she sees under the skin as will as the surface so you get a three-dimensional very close up portrait.  There is a saying “ it’s under the skin what counts” and here we can see exactly what Hardie is made of!

These paints need to be closely examined in order to make sense of them.  Is stumbling across them with no narrative to explain what they are, you would just place them in the box ‘obscure abstract’.  Abstract they are not even though the closeness of the view along with the undefined detail does make them so at first glance.

She says that she chooses the oval /round shape as it contains a complete world of focus within it. (blog.liverpoolmuseums.org.uk 2015).  It is rather like looking down the lenses of a microscope.  The circular shape with an even focus across the field of view and you struggle to ascertain what it is exactly you are looking at!

She says of using the body as the subject for much of her work “ … offering me a means to explore ideas about Realism. By Realism, I mean an intention to depict what is actually here  ….”.”” (blog.liverpoolmuseums.org.uk 2015)

In a further interview she noted “My intention is to create a sense of heightened attention to the subject, even if that heightened attention seems to transform into ambiguity under scrutiny”. (Kemp, 2018)

Hardie’s work uses figuration to engage the viewer and depicts this figuration to the point of abstraction which entices the viewer in trying to decipher what it is.  These areas of skin have an unknown intimacy to them.  Which areas of skin is she depicting? Is it her or a model that she depicts?

The commentary on her work at the Billcliffe Gallery notes: “Observing from life, she employs aspects of classical painting and color theory to render a lifelike presence. Intimate and monumental, the body-image shifts back and forth perceptually between an atmospheric illusion and a thing of gravity, real and tangible.”  (Billcliffegallery.com, 2018)

Once you have spent sometime examining one or more of her skin portrait (for that is what they are), you can more quickly ascertain when looking at other examples of her work what it is exactly you are looking at.  The delicate translucent skin with a glow that imbibes life to the tracery blue veins crossing the image much like lace.  The gossamer thin skin practically invites you to push through, to touch and explore the veins and the inner sections we see hinted at.

These paintings remind me very much of a time when I was in hospital and the doctors pored over scans and images they had taken of me to ascertain the extent of the massive infection I was fighting against.  In these little channels of veins and the tracery shown all life is present from the microbes they assist and hinder us to the DNA that makes us and we pass to our children.  These are as intimate a portrait that one can make of a person.

Not all her work is extreme close-ups of the skin, I have noted an example of more conventional portraits of eight people [Fig.4}.  Despite, these being close-up head and shoulders portraits they don’t create or capture the intimacy of the skin paints seen in Figures 1, 2 and 3.

List of Illustrations

Fig. A1. Hardie, Gwen, (2009), Body-09.03.09, [online], Available at: http://gwenhardie.com/files/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/Body-09.03.09.jpg [Accessed on 19 May 18]

Fig. A2. Hardie, Gwen, (2008), Body 05.01.08, [online], Available at: http://gwenhardie.com/files/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/Body-05.01.08.jpg [Accessed on 19 May 18]

Fig. A3. Hardie, Gwen, (2010), Body 12.30.10, [online], Available at: http://gwenhardie.com/files/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/Body-12.30.105.jpg [Accessed on 19 May 18]

Fig. A4. Hardie, Gwen, (2016), 8 portrait-color studies, [online], Available at: http://gwenhardie.com/files/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/8-gouache-portraits.jpg [Accessed on 19 May 18]


Billcliffegallery.com. (2018). Gwen Hardie, Scottish artist | Billcliffe Gallery. [online] Available at: http://www.billcliffegallery.com/artists/gwen-hardie/ [Accessed 19 May 2018].

Blog.liverpoolmuseums.org.uk. (2018). Gwen Hardie: skin, light and paint. [online] Available at: http://blog.liverpoolmuseums.org.uk/2015/10/gwen-hardie-skin-light-and-paint/ [Accessed 19 May 2018].

Kemp, K. (2018). Portrait of an Artist: Gwen Hardie talks about her work and upcoming exhibition at the SCVA – Concrete. [online] Concrete. Available at: http://www.concrete-online.co.uk/portrait-artist-gwen-hardie-talks-work-upcoming-exhibition-scva-katie-kemp/ [Accessed 19 May 2018].