Painting the Poets by Claire Eastgate:
A Portrait Artist’s response to contemporary voices in poetry
Painting the Poets is a unique concept: an exhibition of painted portraits by Claire Eastgate celebrating the lives and work of some the UK’s finest contemporary female poets. Eastgate’s legacy project documents an unprecedented time in history where a growing collective of women’s voices are writing and performing poetry with fresh perspectives. These vibrant portraits reflect the rich diversity of the UK’s poetry community, where portraiture and the powerful voice of poetry merge into one. The exhibition, due for completion early 2020, is set to engage and inspire a broad and diverse audience.
The idea for the exhibition was conceived as Eastgate worked on a double portrait to honour the important contributions to poetry of Gillian Clarke, former National Poet of Wales and Carol Ann Duffy, DBE, whose term as Poet Laureate draws to a close in 2019. The painting was shortlisted for the National Portrait Gallery BP Award 2017 which went on to tour the UK. It was an historic event when Duffy became the first woman poet laureate. Eastgate’s portrait simultaneously marks Duffy’s personal achievement and draws attention to the erstwhile absence of women in the laureateship timeline thus far. Eastgate became aware of the groundswell of a new generation of women writing poetry in the wake of Duffy’s laureateship, one that is shaping and being shaped by shifting social norms. The discovery of these eclectic new voices served as a catalyst for the project.
Selecting poets whose work speaks to her, Eastgate’s chosen 26 poets range in age from mid-twenties to early eighties. The group includes both new talent and established names, including national poet laureates, Carol Ann Duffy and Scottish Makar, Jackie Kay, MBE as well as international poet and rap star Kate Tempest. Not surprisingly, this makes for a rich diversity in the style of work, from written to spoken word, performance and rap. There is also diversity across the poets’ background, heritage and ethnicity, making the collection representative of the UK’s global nature: north and south of England, Scotland, Ireland, Wales and also beyond, from Egypt, Syria, the Caribbean, China, Australia and India. For list of poets see over.
The opening event will include performances by some of the poets as well as an introduction to the exhibition by Gillian Clarke. A programme of cultural events including poetry performances, combined workshops, slam competitions and talks will run throughout the duration of the exhibition. The main poetry organisations in the UK (The Poetry Society, The Poetry School, Poet in the City and The Poetry Book Society) all wish to collaborate on the event programme.
An anthology of the poets’ work is planned to accompany the exhibition, and subsequently to tour the exhibition throughout the UK. Eastgate's vision is then to take the project to an international stage, and where appropriate, include indigenous poets painted by local artists. Poetry, and art, can document and spur transformation. An aim is that the project will acknowledge the power of poetry to provide a platform for speaking of, from, and against oppression wherever it is found.
“It has been exhilarating to meet the people behind the voices of contemporary poetry, a real privilege. I want to celebrate the fact that so many of these voices are female. These poets are speaking out for themselves and for all of us, by putting words to subjects and experiences that have been previously hidden or suppressed. One person’s risk taking makes another person bold enough to break a silence, to also choose expression over repression creating new dialogues that are long overdue. As this process snowballs it changes the conversation and opens up possibilities.
Portraiture has long had an important role in recording those people who contribute something of value to human society. This is a fantastic opportunity to create a real legacy; with a global exhibition tour and ongoing series of cultural events that celebrate the poets in paint, and promotes their work to wider and new audiences nationally and internationally.”
Claire Eastgate is an established portrait painter. She has over 15 years’ experience creating projects and exhibitions and working on commissions for private clients, collectors and institutions. Noted subjects are Her Majesty the Queen, commissioned by the Kennel Club; and the Poet Laureate, Dame Carol Ann Duffy.
In 2017, her double portrait of Carol Ann Duffy and Gillian Clarke, National Poet of Wales, was one of 53 shortlisted from 2,580 entries from portrait artists in 87 countries for the BP Award Exhibition and one 3 shortlisted for the BP Travel Award at the National Portrait Gallery and it is currently touring the UK.
In both 2015 and 2017 she was one of the 120 portrait artists, selected from over a thousand entrants, for the Ruth Borchard Self-Portrait Prize exhibition. Eastgate runs regular workshops in portraiture and works between London and Shropshire.
Lucy Aphramor, Mona Arshi, Emily Berry, Victoria Adukwei Bulley, Gillian Clarke, Ella Duffy, Imitiaz Dharker, Carol Ann Duffy, Menna Elfyn, Salena Godden, Jen Hadfield, Sara Howe, Emma Jones, Jackie Kay, Melissa Lee-Houghton, Momtaza Mehri, Liz Lefroy, Lisa Luxx, Sabrina Mahfouz, Hollie McNish, Paula Meehan, Kim Moore, Helen Mort, Heather Phillipson, Deanna Rodger, Hannah Sullivan, Joelle Taylor, Kate Tempest, Jane Yeh
Painting the Poets: An art project by Claire Eastgate copyright 2018
Creative Director: Sylvie Gormezano
Initial marketing direction & research:
Piledrivers – Sue & Caroline Pile
Research / public relations – Rachel White