Shining the light on the Queen

This story was first published in The Straits Times on Jan 27, 2014

British artist Chris Levine is no stranger to royalty and pop- culture icons.

He has photographed larger-than-life subjects including Queen Elizabeth II, supermodel Kate Moss and pop diva Grace Jones.

The 52-year-old artist, however, demurs when asked if his outstanding talent in portrait photography led to sittings with such important subjects.

He says: "I don't have a great body of portraits, but I think they see and understand how I work with light."

His famous 3-D holographic portrait of the Queen, commissioned by the Jersey Heritage Trust to commemorate the island of Jersey's 800 years of allegiance to the crown in 2004, embodies an inner radiance that characterises his portraits.

The photograph, which he titled Equanimity, was later featured in 2012 on UK postage stamps and £100 (S$210) commemorative bank notes to mark the Queen's Diamond Jubilee. It also appeared on the cover of Time magazine in the same year, making it iconic.

The famed portrait is on display here at a gallery, Collectors Contemporary, as part of his solo exhibition, which features works in various light-related mediums including light sculptures, holographic works and laser light installations. The works are priced between $13,375 and $263,220.

He says: "The Queen is among the most portrayed persons in history, so I wanted the photograph to be meaningful and not just another image."

A version of the portrait that shows the Queen with her eyes gently shut is likewise on display here. Titled Lightness Of Being, it was included in London's National Portrait Gallery show, The Queen: Art And Image, in 2012. She was resting her eyes when the moment was serendipitously captured, lending the portrait an unconventional pose and a profound air of serenity that seems to invite the viewer into her inner realm.

Levine, who practises meditation and lives in Northamptonshire, outside of London, with his artist wife Emma and four children, says he chooses to depict his sitters at "points of stillness because it is when things are distilled" and their inner beings shine through.

This desire resonates with his enduring interest in using light "to question the fundamental experience of seeing and one's sense of being".

He was piqued by the ways that light can conjure images when he first glimpsed a beam of laser light in a physics class at school. A hologram portrait he saw at London's Science Museum as a student similarly left a deep impression on his mind. He received a bachelor's degree from the Chelsea School of Art and a master's in computer graphics from the Central St Martins School of Art. These days, he is busy expanding his oeuvre and widening the scope of his art with works that combine music and light.

In 2012, he collaborated with artist- musician Antony Hegarty on Swanlights, a performance piece commissioned by New York's Museum of Modern Art. The production featured symphonic arrangements of songs by the avant-garde art rock group Antony And The Johnsons, led by Hegarty, which were accompanied by Levine's dramatic laser light installation projected onto a large crystalline centrepiece.

He says: "It is easy for people to get caught up in things around them and have their senses overloaded, so I want to create sound and light experiences that take them away from it and into euphoric states."

This story was first published in The Straits Times on Jan 27, 2014

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