We are pleased to present ‘The Eremite’, an exhibition of new drawings by Guillermo Martin Bermejo inspired by the National Portrait Gallery in London and their recent acquisition of his work.
Guillermo Martin Bermejo’s pencil drawings describe an imaginative inner world populated by the creative minds and stories that have marked him. Some are portraits drawn onto pages from abandoned books; others develop into elaborate scenes where these characters are displaced to the mountains near his village north of Madrid. These natural settings represent a wilderness both literal and metaphorical, a place of refuge from the noise of contemporary life where faces from the past are as abundant as trees in a landscape.
The inspiration for this exhibition stems from a visit to the National Portrait Gallery in London following its reopening in the summer of 2023. A series of small portraits draw on works in the Gallery collection: Celia Paul, Dylan Thomas, the Bronte sisters, Dante Gabriel Rosetti, and John Everett Millais. The poet WH Auden is depicted in a double portrait, in recognition of the Gallery’s recent acquisition of one of Guillermo’s portraits of Auden. They and others appear filtered through Guillermo’s personal perspective like flashes of light in a forest.
The larger drawings take this theme of the wilderness and amplify it both visually and technically. Undergrowth sprawls across the pages, while within them grand figures and narratives appear: St Francis, the quintessential nature-loving saint, entwined amongst branches and birds; St Joseph imagined as a young carpenter before divine events overtook him; a moment of reflection and doubt in the garden of Gethsemane. Contact with nature binds all the drawings together, from a study of the art historian Johann Winckelmann departing from nature in search of the ideal of beauty to a young boy whose cheek is scarred by a climbing accident. Immersion in nature is everywhere, to the extent that some figures appear overwhelmed, their world turned literally upside down.
The technical ambition with which Guillermo renders his scenes is also a significant development. While many of his portraits have an air of early Lucien Freud, others have a lighter touch, as if their subjects and legacies were still works in progress. Increasingly in his complex settings, up and down or interior and exterior become harder to define. There is a play of light and dark, positive and negative space, indebted both to cubism and to the way light falls in shards through the branches in a wood. Together they form glimpses of an endless wandering through our shared creative cultural landscape, a vast wilderness populated by portraits from the past.