Wathen’s third solo show with the gallery appears to rest within the conventions of traditional portraiture, but there is something evidently unconventional about his paintings. They are imbued with a sense of unease - recognisable, yet strange and unfamiliar.
Manner; environment; fashion; the placement of objects and animals: seemingly deliberate details which we might assume locate a portrait temporally and geographically, have a peculiar uncertainty which evades specificity. The functions of characterisation are destabilised and the sitters seem of uncertain age, time, and in some cases, gender.
Such ambiguity is present in “Hilary” where it is unclear whether the protagonist, who is clutching a rabbit, does so with a tyrannical grip, or a tender embrace. Similarly, “Leonid”, depicts a character in an uncertain composure – a question-mark hovering over the figure’s gender, and whether they are captured during sleep, a charade or perhaps even in death.
Wathen’s characters are reticent, and remain distant, alienated from the viewer. Eye contact is often evasive or vacant, the poses awkward and gestures hesitant, compounding the sense of estrangement already present in the stark, isolated settings.