This Is How You Paint Jeff Bezos

Illustration for article titled This Is How You Paint Jeff Bezos
Image: The National Portrait Gallery

The National Portrait Gallery of Washington, D.C., is currently displaying a psychological thriller of a painting: “Untitled, Jeffrey P. Bezos,” 2019. We won’t ask why the gallery would choose to display a six-by-five-and-a-half portrait of the 2019 fundraising gala honoree as it enjoys a new spate of VIP interest and oh, by the way, reported an $11 million annual budget for FY 2017. More interesting, from a technical standpoint, is a set of discrete choices–the icy gaze, the cramped posture, the yawning absence of earthly surroundings–of a specter temporarily entombed inside a human body. The keeper of limbo, perhaps. It makes “American Gothic” look as feelings-y as a Thomas Kinkade. It still doesn’t come close to this chiaroscuro of Jeff Bezos devouring an iguana with his hands (at home, conceivably), but that’s impossible because no portrait will ever beat that ever.

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Illustration for article titled This Is How You Paint Jeff Bezos
Image: The National Portrait Gallery
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In fact, it’s maybe too on the nose. The left eye droops in the way that Bezos’s left eye droops; the neck juts out the way that Bezos’s neck juts out; the head is bald in the way that Bezos’s head is bald. It’s all there.

Except for the mystifying decision to leave about two feet of white space above the subject’s head while chopping off the hands, what more appropriate setting can you imagine him in, other than nothingness? We can’t. But I dunno! Feel free to get creative with Photoshop in the comments; here’s the link to the source image.

And get a load of this spin-off, an absolute masterpiece:

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Staff reporter, Gizmodo. wkimball @ gizmodo

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DISCUSSION

harvey-manfrenjenson
Harvey Manfrenjenson

This looks like the sort of photorealism that is achieved by projecting a photograph onto a canvas and painting the projection. It’s not really a genre I have much respect for, since the end result usually just looks like a photograph with a Photoshop filter applied.

Aside from that, it’s hideous. Maybe it’s intentionally hideous. The painter seems to be imitating the photographer Richard Avedon, who liked to shoot his subjects in harsh lighting against a blank white void, cut off from all the props and scenery that portrait artists might normally use to help give us a sense of who the subject is. His portraits were often weirdly intimate and revealing. Some of his subjects (Marilyn Monroe) would come off as deeply depressed; others seem demented or evil (Wallis and Edward); others would project an unexpected warmth (Eisenhower).

So, was that the point of the Bezos portait? Was the painter trying to say that he had looked deeply into Bezos’ soul and found that it was flat, bland, guarded, and lacking in emotional warmth— the soul of a constipated accountant? Because that’s what it looks like.

Something is really wrong with Bezos if he’s happy with how the portait turned out.