Adam Birtwistle is a leading, internationally acclaimed, artist. He has lived in France for the past 25 years but exhibited regularly in London. His challenging portraits combine a wry humour with an unsettling ‘vale of violence’ that is readily exposed in most of us when our thin veneer of civilised behaviour is tested!
Born in Eton in 1959, Birtwistle is best known for a body of portraits which are at once stark and playful, idiosyncratic and immediately recognisable. Six are on display at Glyndebourne Opera House, East Sussex, and two are owned by the National Portrait Gallery – one of his father, the composer Sir Harrison Birtwistle, and the other of Elvis Costello. In addition to the NPG’s paintings, notable works include: portraits of the painters Craigie Aitchison RA (1926–2009) and Sir Peter Blake RA, critic David Sylvester (1924–2001), pianist Alfred Brendel and composers Michael Tippett (1905–1998), Benjamin Britten (1913–1976), Morton Feldman (1926–1987), Hans Werner Henze (1926–2012) and Pierre Boulez.
In 2000 he was asked to paint the portraits of six composers, whose operas were performed during the 2001 Glyndebourne Festival. These portraits – of Mozart, Beethoven, Verdi, Janáček, Britten and Birtwistle – featured prominently in the Glyndebourne Festival Book that year. He was subsequently commissioned by Glyndebourne to paint Sir Peter Hall, David Hockney RA, Anja Silja, Sir George and Lady Christie and Peter Sellars for the opera house’s permanent collection.
He has painted Jeremy Irons, the architect Michael Hopkins, Dame Marjorie Scardino, the eminent oncologist Dr Peter Harper and a major study of the American novelist and woman of letters, Flannery O’Conner. His first exhibition in New York was successfully mounted in November 2002, with work purchased by both private and museum collections. In the same year he was commissioned to paint Ian Albery, the retiring CEO of Sadler’s Wells, London, whose portrait now hangs in the main stage entrance of the theatre.
Continuing on the theme of capturing live performers, in 2004 he painted the astronomer Sir Patrick Moore FRS (1923–2012) who wrote and presented ‘The Sky at Night’ for the BBC for over 50 years. Portraits of composers and conductors have been an obsession for Adam Birtwistle for over 30 years and recent additions include the Hungarian composer Modest Mussorgsky and Russian conductor Genari Rozhdesvensky.In the words of Lord Gowrie, ‘Adam Birtwistle is an artist who brings off something uncommon and difficult. He is a serious painter with wit. This quality shows in both composition and brushwork.’ Dr Charles Saumarez Smith, formely Director of the National Gallery (the two works at the NPG were purchased during his tenure as director) and now CEO and Secretary of the Royal Academy of Arts, regards Adam Birtwistle, ‘...as one of the best of his generation’ and art critic Godfrey Barker has described him as ‘...one of our most distinguished portrait painters in what is, presently, a Golden Age of portraiture in Britain’.
Adam Birtwistle’s work has been the subject of a postgraduate thesis submitted to the University of Denver, Colorado. Other paintings include a commission to paint Benjamin Franklin in his tricentenary year (2006). Paintings inspired by political figures include Abraham Lincoln, Sir Winston Churchill and Charles de Gaulle as well as Cherie Blair. In recent years he completed a cycle of Ten Race Reversal portraits entitled Admirable Twist (an anagram of his own name) in response to a commission by the media commentator Nick Ross. His most recent self-portrait, AB by AB, 2013 submitted to the 2013 biennial Ruth Borchard Self-Portrait Prize was acquired for the collection.
Currently a portrait of David Hockney, owned by the Berger Collection, is on tour in the United States in Treasures of British Art 1400-2000, at Portland Museum of Art, Maine (October 2, 2014-January 4, 2015), Dixon Gallery & Gardens, Memphis, Tennessee (January 25, 2014–April 19, 2015), Brigham Young University Art Museum, Provo, Utah (August 14, 2015–January 5, 2016), and Denver Art Museum, Denver, Colorado (date to be confirmed, 2016)
Adam Birtwistle’s latest one-man exhibition Havoc Dyed Ink (12th May to 13th June, 2015) opens at Piano Nobile in May 2015 and consists of seventeen pencil studies of David Hockney from 2002, since worked up by the artist with accents of coloured paint and ink to his red braces and grey trousers, together with a new painting of Hockney completed earlier this year.