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208 × 156 × 17 mm
128 pages
86 illustrations, 85 in colour
01 Mar 2016
  • £15.00

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Leon Golub Powerplay The Political Portraits Jon Bird

The American artist Leon Golub (1922–2004) is best known for his iconic history paintings of mercenaries, interrogations, torture scenes and riots of the 1980s and early ’90s. Published to accompany an exhibition of Golub’s political portraits at the National Portrait Gallery, London, from March to November 2016, curated by Jon Bird, this collection of almost 100 paintings offers a rich survey of his powerful images of world leaders, politicians and other notable personalities.

In this book, Jon Bird and Gill Perry show how Golub explored the effects of power upon the body through facial expressions, gestures and poses, and invested his figures with psychological tension and depth. Golub found his source material in media representations, enabling the artist to capture the way power – whether political, military or social – is disseminated as well as mediated through the camera lens. This ‘look of power’ is the dominant characteristic of his series of political portraits, dating from the mid-1970s, of heads of state and corporate, military and religious leaders. Depicting individuals at various stages of their public office – from Fidel Castro and Henry Kissinger to Augusto Pinochet and Mao Tse-Tung – Golub traced narratives of arrogance and uncertainty, venality and authority across the faces of his subjects. Leon Golub Powerplay is an arresting compilation of images, rendered in Golub’s scraped and visceral signature style.

This book accompanies an exhibition of Leon Golub’s political portraits to be held at the National Portrait Gallery, London, from March to November 2016, curated by the author.

‘This book, documenting the work of the anti-war artist/activist, is a work of art in itself, beautifully weaving together portraits with observations about their political significance, both historically and to the painter.’ — Times Higher Education

‘Hats off to the publishers for an exquisite, cloth-bound, elegant companion to a significant exhibition by the radical US artist.’ — Morning Star

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Jon Bird is Professor of Art and Critical Theory at Middlesex University and a tutor in the Theory Department at the Jan van Eyck Acadamie, Maastricht. He has edited Rewriting Conceptual Art (1999) and Otherworlds: The Art of Nancy Spero and Kiki Smith (2003), both published by Reaktion. He is the author of the critical monograph Leon Golub: Echoes of the Real (Reaktion, 2nd edition 2011).


Jon Bird: Powerplay: Leon Golub’s Political Portraits

Gill Perry: In Your Face: Immediacy, Masculinity and Skin

Political Portraits: Foucs on Key Figures

Other Political Subjects


Photo Acknowledgements