Incidental Icons

Inspired by media images

This ongoing series of small portraits and figures combines two disparate traditions of image making – Ancient Egyptian Fayum Portraits (1st Century BC- 3d Century AD)  and contemporary newspaper cuttings from Ireland and abroad. The permanence and impermanence of these two traditions are brought together by the artist in these ongoing small paintings on panel.

Anonymous people extracted from disposable media images are de-contextualised and their stories unknown. And in the process of re-painting their image they adapt a permanent presence to the viewer.


What makes an image iconic, or incidentally so? Who decides?



The Incidental Icons series is featured in the catalogue which accomanied the exhibition ‘In my father’s house there are many rooms’.
The catalogue can be purchased here.

‘Incidental icons’. The title and images, inspired by media images from natural disasters, violations of human rights, home and away, prompt so many questions. What makes an image iconic, or incidentally so? Who decides? The media? The artist? The viewer?

National Geographic’s ‘Afghan Girl’ or Dorothea Lange’s ‘Migrant Mother’ are the exception among news media images in that the subjects have stayed in the public consciousness long after the events that saw them brought into the public gaze. Alan Kurdi,‘The Syrian boy on the beach’, may join them. But most images captured by news media in such situations are presented for a moment, incidental and fleeting, illustrative of the human cost of some newsworthy event, staying with us until we are shuffled on to the next crisis or tragedy. When these images become the artist’s studied subject, what, if anything, changes? Are they somehow enshrined, is their pain or stoicism honoured in their transfiguration from news image to artistic subject?

The titles of these pieces (‘Woman with scarf’, ‘Civilian’, ‘Fighter’ etc.) also trigger questions. We are left to ponder what other layers of identity they each possess. What other aspects of their lives and being are not captured in this single frozen-in-time iconic portrayal? What do we wish for them?

Patrick Twomey is an International Human Rights Lawyer.