David Turner—More Ordinary Leaders: Unofficial Portraits

David Turner – ‘More Ordinary Leaders: Unofficial Portraits’

Opening: Wednesday 20 September, 6-8pm
Artist’s talk: Wednesday 20 September 6.30pm
Gallery Hours: Thursday–Saturday, 21–23 September, 12–6pm

This exhibition showcases David Turner’s portraits of famous world leaders as ordinary young people created using Lego bricks or Hama Beads. With these original works the artist draws upon and rejects the portrait tradition of the great and powerful as he “de-idealises” their representations, and confers on them a private and playful quality.

Portrayed leaders are popular figures who exercised or exercise a remarkable influence over national and even international politics and policies, and were or are involved in conflicts, be they wars or in a broader sense conflicts of interest. They include heads of states, revolutionaries, civil rights activists and also popes, among them Martin Luther King, Ernesto “Che” Guevara, Nelson Mandela, and Pope Benedict XVI.

Tuner produced these portraits drawing inspiration from and at the same time subverting the portrait tradition of powerful leaders. This tradition has seen “official portraits” of eminent persons represented in a way to be easily recognisable and idealised – their strength and other virtues clearly attributed to them. Indeed a similar process of idealisation is present in many images of these leaders widely available and even familiar to the public, that include not only portraits, but also propaganda posters, and pictures published in the media or elsewhere. In these images they appear as charismatic public figures, gifted with laudable qualities, such as authority, strength, confidence or simply agreeableness.

Turner while still showing the great and powerful, offers instead a series of portraits which can be defined “unofficial” for their peculiar qualities. Here leaders are hardly recognisable and would often remain anonymous without their identification in the pictures’ titles. They are also far from being idealised and represented as ordinary youths removed from their public roles through which they were portrayed or perceived to have extraordinary qualities. Moreover, the young age of the subjects and the toy mediums used give the works a playful aspect. This further distances these leaders from their public life and idealised public images.

Through these works Turner continues to explore political themes which are at the core of his work. With these portraits the artist invites viewers to imagine the leaders as more ordinary, at an age when different life paths were possible, before their decisions shaped their career and their involvement in conflicts. Viewers could be also prompted to compare some portraits on display with others which are more familiar and reflect upon the possible idealisation of leaders present and conveyed through images.

This exhibition is curated by Francesca Biondi

All displayed artworks are for sale.

David Turner lives and works in Belfast, Northern Ireland. He attended the Belfast School of Art, Ulster University and graduated with a BA (Hons) in Fine and Applied Arts and a Master of Fine Art. His art has been widely exhibited nationally and internationally in Europe, USA and Asia, and it has been acquired for private and public collections including recently for that of the Arts Council of Northern Ireland.
Turner creates diverse art works that explore political themes. He produces both two-dimensional representations and objects which have a playful quality for their use of Lego bricks and Hama Beads, or because made with or replicating toys. These pieces’ playfulness is only in appearance as they reflect serious political concerns. Conflict is a core theme in Turner’s work, created drawing upon considerations on wars, terrorist attacks, fights for civil rights, conflicts of interests and the role of leaders in conflicts. He relates his use of Lego bricks or Hama beads to this core theme, as these are materials and toys he played with as a child, when growing up in turbulent Belfast during the ‘70s.


Francesca Biondi is an art consultant based in Belfast, Northern Ireland.  She combines her extensive experience in management with her knowledge of and passion for visual arts to offer a range of services, from curating and managing exhibitions, to advising arts organisations on exhibition programmes and supporting artists’ professional development.
After graduating in English Language and Literature in Italy, she studied arts administration and management at Birkbeck College, University of London and later she completed a Master in Art History at the Open University focusing on modern and contemporary art and curating exhibitions.
Francesca Biondi has been working in the cultural sector in for over fifteen years. Among others she was a founding board member and co-director of Belfast Platform for the Arts, a high profile gallery and studio space in Belfast, and sits as an advisor on the Gallery Sub-committee of QSS, another important studio and gallery space in Belfast.




David Turner, Benedict, 2017, Lego bricks on plywood, 76.5 x 76.5cm (79 x 79cm frame)

David Turner, “Che”, 2017, Hama Beads, 24 x 23cm (42 x 42cm with frame)
David Turner, MLK, 2017, Hama Beads, 24 x 23cm ( 42cm x 42cm with frame)