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In recent years, Spanish artist Daniel Coves has focused his practise on a series of works, dubbed ‘Back Paintings’. In these oil on linen portraits, Coves obscures the identity of his subjects, either by painting them from behind or using hair to veil their face. Speaking about the challenge of capturing the material properties of hair, Coves explains, “from a pictorial point of view, it is a way to experiment with light and colour. From the outside it can seem a bit repetitive, but like any other theme, once you immerse yourself in it you realise that there are almost unlimited possibilities to explore.”

DANIEL COVES Back Portrait no.11
Back Portrait no.11, 2015, oil on linen
Medusa, 2016, graphite on paper
DANIEL COVES The Seamstress
The Seamstress, 2016, oil on linen

Coves’s central interest lies in hair as a device to cloak and obscure, thereby adding an element of mystery to each portrait. By choosing to exclude faces altogether, Coves subverts the idea of the ‘conventional’ portrait, which is traditionally based around capturing a person’s face. From this, the viewer would obtain certain details about the subject, including age and mood. When this information remains hidden, Coves argues, “you add ambiguity. A portrait that doesn’t allow you to identify a specific person becomes a portrait of a person in general. You also add uncertainty, which in cinematographic terms could be defined as suspense.” Coves, who counts Russian filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky among his influences, is particularly intrigued by the links between cinema and figurative painting. In this sense, his ambiguous painted scenes could be seen to adopt the cinematic device of creating a sense of foreboding by hiding things just off-screen, rendering them all the more sinister.

DANIEL COVES back portrait no.8
Back Portrait no.8, 2015, oil on linen
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Automata no.5, 2017, oil on linen
Blind Portrait no.2, 2017, oil on linen
Metz, 2017, oil on linen
DANIEL COVES Steier no.1
Steier, 2015, oil on linen
“In a conventional portrait you can identify a person and recognise the details of a face and mood. In these paintings all these things remain hidden.”
Daniel Coves
DANIEL COVES Steier no.4
Steier no.4 , 2015, oil on linen
Revenant, 2017, oil on linen
DANIEL COVES Steier no.2
Steier no.2, 2015, oil on linen
DANIEL COVES Automata no.1
Automata no.1, 2016, oil on linen

Images Daniel Coves Website danielcoves.com
Instagram www.instagram.com/daniel.coves
Words Emma de Clercq

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