Monday, 17 February 2020

Portrait painting as a quest

Portrait painting as a quest

It was such a pleasure to portray my Mexican/Dutch daughter-in-law in watercolour and in so doing to share the joy of her expected baby. You will surely guess from her beaming expression that she wants us to know that something miraculous is going to happen. This mother-to-be is a warm colourful personality, sitting proud yet relaxing in the reds, gold and greens of her sunny culture. 

I've come to realise that painting a portrait is a timeless reflection on the origins and the prospects of your subject. Every choice of expression or colour, every brushstroke comments on and contributes to their personal history. That's quite a responsibility and a privilege. Each portrait is a quest. Where are you from? Who are you? Who do you want to be? There's no easy method, but somehow you have to zero in to something much deeper than a snapshot, much more than just a superficial "likeness". 

In my old age, I've become proudly aware of the multicultural ancestry of my grandchildren: British, American, Dutch, Mexican and very probably with Celtic origins. I wonder what my portraits will reveal to my great-grandchildren about themselves - and also about me.

As I thought lovingly of this little growing grandchild-to-be I intuitively painted the background freely with a large full brush and watched the puddles of watercolour slowly dry. Then to my amazement they turned into a little smiling face, sleeping happily just above mother's head. It was quite emotional. Thank you, my dear. What a privilege to meet you. 
Here's the link to some of my many Portraits. And the link to my portraits of great musicians in action.  

Thursday, 16 January 2020

Twenty twenty calligraphy

Calligraphy as 

An artist's every brushstroke exposes his inner self to all. It's usually an art-historian who will tell the artist what he was trying to say, even though his comments may come too late. So it's refreshing when still alive and well to read an analysis of your imagery by a well-informed observer. The perceptive and esteemed Amsterdam psychologist and coach Dr. Aggie Kemper knows my work well and has been a friend in need over many years. Below are her kind comments on my New Year's card. I had just painted it spontaneously, enjoying the calligraphic opportunity, without any profound intentions (except perhaps to avoid the political bias toward red or blue and to bring them together as purple).

"Your New Year's card is something of a self-portrait, albeit an abstract one. Although it depicts 2020, one can see much than that: joy, energy, movement, all sorts of emotions. The first number two is self-assured and wants to get moving.  The first zero is open - to many possibilities. The second two seems to be taking cover behind the two zeros. Is this really 2020? And the second zero is flamboyant, also open, so as to leave behind it what is no longer relevant. The exclamation mark expresses your life that has left us many beautiful marks". (Freely translated from the Dutch).

On reflection, I notice that even though the word Peace is slightly obscured by a cloud of watercolour, happiness is emerging into the light. Was this lively painting (25 x 19 cm) a direct transposition of my feelings that day? You may not believe this, but to be honest, I was quite depressed about the world of 2019. I had to haul this painting out of some deep inner place.  But once in the swing, I do remember feeling: let's float freely, let's go for it and let's have some fun too! 

Friday, 15 November 2019

Three new portraits

The joys and challenges 
of three new portraits

You'll find a suggestion of movement in most of my portraits, from thought-clouds to the free brush-strokes inspired by music or a musician. I surround the subject with his/her colours and vibes. Every new portrait commission brings a different challenge, a search for the essence of a personality, so I zoom in for clues from every detail. For example, everybody has eyes that are not quite the same. Eyebrows tell me a lot. The mouth is always moving or about to say something, and the smallest touch on either side change an expression radically. A tilt of the head to the right will express thoughtfulness or to the left feeling. So many decisions to make!

I spend about three weeks in an intense relationship, so to speak, with each subject, although I don't see them after the single sitting for sketches and photos. When the portrait is finished I feel privileged to have become acquainted at a deep personal level and to have revealed that there's so much more in my subject than you can get from a mere snap-shot. At the unveiling I love sharing the surprise and joy of recognition: "Oh, yes; that's me"!
Each portrait session becomes a conversation, in English or Dutch. In this watercolour (approx. 80 x 60 cm.) the fourteen-year-old son of my picture-framer is reflecting on the question I've just posed and is about to challenge me with some alternatives. He's sensitive, intelligent, deliberately casual and on his way to becoming a strong young man.
Photo: Peter Elenbaas
The colours in this portrait (approx. 70 x 50 cm.) reflect that this dear friend is a nature-lover and a spiritual person. In that gaze is the reassurance that she sees your need. With her strong and sensitive hands she gives holistic massages from the heart, with wisdom, love and humour. What a gift she has!
Above is one of the largest watercolour portraits I have ever made (114 x 60 cm.) - the commission was for a painting from top to toe. To engage with this journalist I got her to interview me, resulting in a critical yet enquiring gaze, her sense of humour and her love for the recipient of the painting. There's a hint of the winged feet of Mercury, the Messenger of the gods, surrounded by activity. Yet here she has come to a standstill, with an expression that betrays that she really is here for one man. And yes, it was a celebration for them both when I unveiled his birthday present. 
Here's the Link to my earlier introductory blog
 on other portraits and how to commission one.

Saturday, 9 November 2019

Creative freedom in 2019!

Creative freedom in 1990!

If you can't read this, turn it anti-clockwise. 
It says, of course 
Creative freedom in 1990

Thirty years ago, on my New Year's card of 1989/90, my long splayed brush was not just painting graffiti on a wall - it was my own simple way to slash through the wall of political and cultural prejudice, to freely calligraph a message of optimism, a call for creative thinking in whatever language you speak, write, sing, play or paint; a call to claim freedom from disastrous political systems. Today, that call needs  repeating: Creative freedom in 2019!

In November 1989 the Berlin Wall came down and we were all carried away with excitement about the consequences. That first celebration of German unity in Berlin saw Rostropovich playing the Bach Cello Suites at the Wall and Leonard Bernstein at the Berlin Schauspielhaus conducting Beethoven's Ninth Symphony with the final Ode to Joychanging the words from Freude! (joy) to Freiheit! (freedom). Here he is in action in 1989:


But despite our hopes and tears of joy, 
thirty years on, has very much changed? 
Let us not despair. 
These words must still be writ large on walls everywhere:
Think creatively! 
Think out of the box! Through the wall!
An edited version of my blog of 2015