Iain Hetherington

Iain Hetherington's contribution to Nought to Sixty

Iain Hetherington (born Glasgow, 1978, lives in Glasgow) interrogates the crisis of portraiture in both a painterly and cultural context. In his painting practice, as well as in the fanzines he produces with Alex Pollard (Mainstream and Radical Vans and Carriages), Hetherington uses oblique titles and comic gestures to mount attacks on politically correct or 'focus group' culture. His painting technique, meanwhile, combines a traditional representational approach with the use of collage, and the incorporation of apparent detritus from the studio - newspaper, scraps of canvas - into the surface of the image.

While portrait painting traditionally conveys a subject's likeness or character, in Hetherington's recent works these aspects are significant by their absence. The defining physical features of his subjects remain entirely spectral, as the space where one expects to see the hands or faces of these figures is rendered in a muddied impasto, whereas their tracksuits and hoodies, jewellery and branded baseball caps, are rendered with photorealistic care. For Hetherington, these are the real cultural signifiers of portraiture in our media-obsessed age - the social markers of neds, chavs and football casuals. For Target Audience (2005) the artist pasted a pair of plastic googly eyes at the centre of a shapeless form of acrylic paint - a slapstick gesture, but one that in the context of the title creates a hollow laugh.

For Nought to Sixty the artist presents work from his most recent series of oils, Diversified Cultural Workers (2007-08). Hetherington has his own definition of 'cultural workers', encompassing symbolic figures used to make art more appealing to wider audiences. Recurring motifs, such as Burberry baseball caps and gold chains, are depicted with seductive painterly finesse; while, in a couple of paintings, Swarovski diamonds are embedded in the surface of the canvas. Yet these fashion accessories are at odds with the portraits' satirical titles, such as Studio Delinquents shield themselves from attack using the international language of confusion (2007), and Privileged Mis-representer subconsciously attempts a quasi-corporeal merger with the market research project worked upon, resulting in the flattening of difference (2007).

Hetherington was initially attracted to the portrait format because of its problematic and unfashionable status within contemporary painting, but his explorations also point to wider issues. Undermining glib notions of multiculturalism and 'diversity' within the cultural sector, Hetherington re-expresses the portrait in the language of market research and social types, challenging conceptions of audiences and society not simply within his paintings, but in the space beyond the frame.

Isla Leaver-Yap