Portrait of A Young Man

Portrait of a Young Man combines art, performance and audience interaction to cram wild splatterings of colour and emotion into a 50 minute performance. From the moment performer Nicholas Prior revealed his stark white body by slowly and delicately walking through the Powerhouse foyer, past the audience and into the Leopard Lodge, the audience were presented with a physical body as a blank canvas. Prior’s pristine body soon became loaded with emotive expression, however, once the audience entered the space and the paint was brought out.

The show as a whole focused on the joy, lust, and fear that love, or more specifically the memory of love, can inspire. Prior began the performance in a stance that exuded vulnerability. As the white figure entered the space, his body hunched, hands hanging slightly limp in front of him, and face as if having eaten a sour lemon, he seemed prepared for the experience and ready to share with his audience.

Prior’s white painted body immediately settled in with the rainbow paint splattered canvases that made up the performance space’s aesthetic. From the moment Prior entered the space it was evident that he belonged with the paint splattered canvases, and further, that his sterile white body would soon connect with the array of colours and patterns behind him.

The themes of joy, lust and fear were definitely present throughout the show. The most recognisable execution of this presence was through the performer’s responses to each of the colours painted across his body. As Prior painted it was as if he were tracing his story to share it with the audience.  A blue line from one limb, across his torso, and down another limb seemed exciting, a smear of yellow across his torso rendered lust-filled and indulgent, and slaps of red paint against his thighs generated pain and discomfort.

Other forms of painted meaning were also developed through the use of an effective soundscape and lighting design. While Prior’s body created a delicate shadowing effect on the canvases behind him, streams of light – sometimes realistic as if the sun were peering in from a window, other times coloured – layered the design to either match or complicate the meaning behind particular colours being painted onto Prior’s body.

The sound design was also as intricate and detailed as the meaning behind the painting experience. Memorable sound experiences included a delicate heartbeat, music not unlike a retro video game that accompanied a fast, particularly lighthearted and child-like painting sequence,  and soft yet high pitched tones that reminded me of a blue television screen without a signal.

While the production created an array of colours, emotions, and sounds for both Prior and the audience to experience, there were moments that dragged or felt ineffective. Moments of silence began as interesting shifts from the busy performance, however, their length felt excessive. Audience members were left sitting in the dark staring at a still performer in silence, unsure of what to expect or how to respond. Whether this was the intentional effect or not, I felt the audience members slowly disorient themselves from the experience, beginning to squirm in their seats or tilt their heads to see if there was something beyond the silent stillness that they were missing.

This quiver in the performer-audience relationship was mended, however, through an invitation for the first two rows to enter Prior’s performance space and paint their own designs onto his body. Some audience members filled blank spaces across the performer’s skin, others layered their designs on top of Prior’s, and one audience member passed a paintbrush on to another as if to avoid the experience altogether. This interactive element became as interesting and meaningful to watch as Director Coleman Grehan’s own creation that surrounded it. Elements of joy and fear definitely filled the room as the audience were given the opportunity to create along with Grehan and Prior.

With faces that verged on tears and giggles simultaneously and physical manipulation that seemed almost alien-like, Prior brought a beautiful vulnerability and lively performance that held the show together. By pairing moments of spitting into paint wells, popping zits, and harsh thigh slaps with delicate design, Butoh movement, and an enjoyably unpredictable sound design, Grehan’s Portrait of A Young Man brings a visual feast of emotional responses to remembering a past love.

Written by Rhumer Diball December 6th 2015


THUR DEC 3– SUN DEC 6, 2015.


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