Heads: by Nicholas Friend, to accompany the exhibition ‘Heads’ 2005 Art First Contemporary Art, Cork Street, London.


Oliver Goslings heads are heads for the 21st century, heads as they are glimpsed in crowds or demonstrations, or as they appear in the backgrounds of newspaper photographs, without faces, yet with individuality. These heads can suggest the anonymity of modern political life or the sorrows of the prisoner, but above all the individual, reaching for survival of the spirit in the ducking and weaving mass of humanity. In looking at these works we are reminded that it is our head as well as our face that, twisting and turning in its conversation with life, has potential for eloquent expression.

Heads have expression independent of the face. If you lean your head to the left, you are supposed to be lying. To the right, thinking. Downward, you are cowed. Forward, bullish. With hair or without, it is the head seen from the back that is most expressive. Most hair falls more or less straight at the back, so revealing the shape of the head, or the hair may even be combed up to reveal the beauty of the neck and the lower back of the skull. Among artists, Watteau, Fuseli and Turner were all fascinated by the backs of heads. Malevich and the later Matisse were interested in the front of the head, and dealt with the problem of features simply by removing them.

Gosling makes outlines of heads, seen usually from behind or from the side. His heads are not concerned with death, but with the life of solitary thought. Merely by a slight shift of angle here or of thickness of line here, without light, shade or modelling, he can suggest not just the entire form of a head but an entire personality with a past, present and idea of a future. What seems at first a vacant shape is actually full of thoughts, certainties and doubts.


Nicholas Friend
Director, Inscape Fine Art Study Tours Ltd.