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

Saturday 5 October 2019

Painting Jessye Norman

Painting Jessye Norman

Watercolour 86 x 54 cm 1990, Birmingham Symphony Hall Collection

This painting carries emotional memories for me. It was commissioned in mid-December 1990 by Birmingham Symphony Hall, part of the pre-publicity for Jessye Norman's concert on June 5th 1991. If I remember correctly, I was given permission to sit in at rehearsals to make sketches in Rotterdam and in the Amsterdam Concertgebouw, where Jessye starred frequently. And of course I listened to every recording I could find during the making of the painting.

My diary looked like a battlefield. My wife was touring Spain with the Netherlands Chamber Orchestra and I was holding the fort with the kids. I had run out of my favourite Arches' watercolour paper with the Satiné finish that allows the washes to float on the surface with extra brilliance. With Christmas approaching, a new roll had not yet arrived. I had set myself the challenge to create clouds of golden watercolour that would spread in a way that would "breathe" the vocal sound. I had to breathe with Jessye to make the painting sing. There's a compositional diagonal that runs from top left down to Jessye's left hand, forming the corner of a pyramid that peaks at her voice, so that the eye moves forward into that rising cloud. 

I made the deadline, Jessye loved the painting and sat for a hour after her Symphony Hall concert, majestically signing my prints. Queen Elizabeth arrived a week later, to officially open the hall. Jessye was a hard act to follow.

Many have paid tribute to the phenomenal musicianship, supreme voice and unique personality of Jessye Norman, who passed away on September 30th. I share the intense sadness of this loss. Her charm, wit, intelligence and professional perfectionism also left an unforgettable impression on anyone who shared her company. 

One could make a dozen paintings of Jessye, and I wanted to do one more, a head and shoulders portrait. When we met for high tea in her Amsterdam suite the day after a concert in 1992, I was ushered in as Mr. Perryman. Of course I had to say "Just call me Norman". She laughed and told me that when she was a little girl they used to call her Norman. We discussed possible locations for a new painting. Tanglewood, Nice, Chicago, maybe? As we sat together on the settee leafing through my photo books on her lap, I was overwhelmed at the beauty of her African-American complexion and her dramatic expressions of appreciation. What a delightful meeting that was! 

Sadly, the portrait was not to be. Later that year my wife was diagnosed with leukaemia and I had to drop everything. Four years later it was Jessye's moving recording of Beim Schlafengehen (When falling asleep) from Richard Strauss' Four Last Songs that filled the church at Vivian's funeral service.

Here's the link: Four Last Songs

Sunday 8 September 2019

The thrill of a portrait

Share the thrill of a lively 
watercolour portrait of yourself

Who are you? Who do want to be? I love sharing the thrill and challenges in the search for the personality and inner energy, as I work intuitively to figure out how to bring out the best in everyone who entrusts me with their image. You don't have to sit for long. While I make sketches and do a photo-shoot, we enjoy an relaxing afternoon of enjoyment and discovery. It always turns out to be a creative collaboration. My portraits are more than just a likeness. The moment of unveiling will give you a surprising sense of recognition and can be quite a moving, self-affirming experience.
Here are a few examples of watercolours painted roughly life-size. Standard measurements are approximately 65 x 45cm (26 x 18 inches), without mount or frame. I use Winsor & Newton watercolour on Arches satiné paper, all museum-quality materials, so there is no risk of colour deterioration.


I live and work in Amsterdam and have a life-time's experience of portrait painting. I must have painted well over a hundred. Many people are familiar with my portraits of famous musicians like Luciano Pavarotti and Yehudi Menuhin in action, but I've also painted very many lovely people with no claims to fame. More details and images can be found on my website at 
If you want to discuss a commission, just email me at or phone me: +31.650294233. 
If you can't come to my Amsterdam studio,  I can travel  to anywhere in Europe. 



Wednesday 28 August 2019

The fulfilment of creative work

The fulfilment of creative work

As a senior citizen of 86, I seem to be bucking the trend. Even people twenty-five years younger are dying to retire, to stop working and receive a pension, as though that is the purpose of life. I know very well that many people have good reasons to "take it easy", those in poor health, or with work-related injuries. More and more are burned out. But the widespread idea that work is by definition a penance, a boring chore and that we shall all be happier if we work less is a sad misconception. 

A recent national Dutch television series on Nieuwsuur featured me briefly in their discussion of the predicaments and risks of those facing the age of retirement, those forced to retire against their wishes and those who have to keep working to make ends meet. For Dutch speakers, here's the link: I appear at 17.00 mins and 29.04 mins.
  Standing in my projected images. Photo: Marijn Duintjer-Tebbens
Typically, artists don't know what "retirement" means. Their creative work springs from a lifelong inner necessity, a spiritual and emotional need. Even though my own so-called "work" is actually quite demanding, it's also my therapy, my inspiration, my passion, my fulfilment. So why should I stop doing what I love? I would miss my studio terribly, full of the vibes of so many projects. Usually inspired by music, the surprising beauty of what comes from my paintbrush delights and nurtures me and when I'm in the state of creative Flow (see the link to this concept ) I lose all sense of time
I hope that in my recent three and a half minutes of screen time I've been able to pass on just a hint of the therapeutic benefits of creative work "flow" to some of the 628.000 viewers and to inspire and convince more pensioners of our need to stay active. It does us all so much good in mind and body.

Having said all that, I must confess that there's another motivation for me to go on producing and hopefully selling my work. It's simply that, with only a modest pension, I still need to earn a living. Then comes the tricky question: "So when you win the lottery, of course you won't need to work any more, will you?" Aaah ...... wait a minute!

                                     An short improvisation for the camera
Admittedly, it would be great to rent a larger studio without worrying about the costs; I could also rent an apartment with a lift, although I would miss the daily climb of sixty-one steps to my fourth floor that keeps me fit; I could travel a little more, not without a sketchbook in hand for creative jottings.

But to answer your question: No, I just can't imagine life without the inner drive to create and to share. For me, work is a basic need.

Projection of a kinetic painting from a performance of Shostakovich' Hamlet Suite

Sunday 7 July 2019

My old tree as a self-portrait

My old tree as a self-portrait

The Amsterdam house of which I rent the fourth floor apartment (no lift) was built in 1913, exactly twenty years before I was born. Probably the plane trees lining my street were planted about the same time, then cut down during the German occupation (1940-45) and re-planted after the war. So even though the one outside my balcony is a bit younger than me, as I watch him grow older we have become good friends and I like to talk to him. With the colours of the season he marks time for me. He has weathered many storms, not to mention the assaults of radical pruners. It's touching to see how he leans over toward his companions that line the street, almost arm in arm, as they share support for each other. He inspires me too, so before I do my morning exercises I open the so-called "French" windows and chat with him, reaching out over the balcony to admire his stamina and flexibility.
I'm still painting portraits, and it suddenly occurred to me that I should portray my dear friend. But during the making of this watercolour (58 x 41cm) he and I got into quite a discussion. My art teachers used to urge me to "be" the tree, if you want a convincing image of it. I said the same to my own students and now to myself. Working through sketches and studies I realised that it would be pointless just to make an exact likeness. My painting had to somehow take on a life of its own through my signature style. Although I was painting a tree, in my mind it gradually became something of a self-portrait - a symbol of my ageing self, scars and all. He is my example, still finding the energy to reach for the sky, still flexible and communicative, still standing firm and tall, still catching light and providing shade after so many years. So each brushstroke became a gesture of gratitude for a shared life. And we haven't finished painting yet.
My street in the autumn

What music do you hear in this gorgeous cathedral of colour? It'll change with the seasons of course.

Wednesday 19 June 2019

The end of an era: Bernard Haitink retires at 90

The end of an era:
Bernard Haitink retires at 90

On Saturday a deep nostalgia came over me as I watched the televised recording of the last time that the great Bernard Haitink would conduct in the Amsterdam Concertgebouw, before his retirement in August. The end of an era. It was 1965 when I was introduced to him and was allowed to sit in at his rehearsals with the Concertgebouw Orchestra, to make sketches for what was to develop into a whole series. He was 36 and I was 32 - looking for ways to give form to my paintings of music. I sat nervously behind this Rolls-Royce of an orchestra, totally fascinated with the unity of their sound and somewhat intimidated by their proximity.  

I was still very much a figurative painter in oils and interested in the arrangement of shapes in the composition, setting up an abstract rhythm with the music-stands (above). But next time, venturing up into the balcony, I discovered an undulating silhouette of the cellos and bass group, a diagonal motif that was to become my signature in many works. Here's the link to my 2014 blog on this characteristic:

Haitink with the Concertgebouw Orchestra II, oil on canvas, 1966.
Collection of the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra
It took courage to paint out the rest of the orchestra, but I wanted to emphasise and celebrate that compositional discovery. Haitink was hunched over to urge the orchestra on, as he did a lot in those early days. You can still recognise the fabulous solo cellist Anner Bijlsma, then higher up in the last row the blond hair of cellist Edith Neuman, at 24 a recent addition to the orchestra who liked my work and introduced me to Bernard. I'm still indebted to my dear friend. I feel so sad that everybody in the orchestra that I painted in the sixties has either retired or passed away.

Haitink conducting Stravinsky's "Le Sacre du Printemps"

Gradually the urge to express the vibes of this surging mass of music took over from the need to illustrate. The abstraction of the rhythms and the colours of the sound became my obsession. Music has to move and I had to show that!

Within one decade, something else was happening. The brush strokes became freer, moving with the sound. And, compared to those early, rather heavily painted oils, the paint was gaining transparency. I was moving towards luminous watercolour as my main medium and discovering ways to express my joy with music.

Haitink conducting Stravinsky's "Firebird" with the Concertgebouw Orchestra, 
oil on canvas, 100 x 65 cm. 1977, Prof. Cees Hamelink Collection

A unique commission from Director Andrew Jowett of Birmingham's Symphony Hall to paint a series of "action-portraits" of many of the great musicians he had programmed would obviously include Bernard Haitink. He is conducting Mahler and I wanted to show him fondly immersed in the colours and zigzagging shapes of that ethereal music, his face in shadow to tone in with the background colours, eyes closed, listening intensely. There just a suggestion of a smile of appreciation, or perhaps wistfulness, as his left hand, shaping the phrase, is saying: But please, the winds, sempre piano here, while his right hand maintains that crisp beat, firm, authoritative.
Bernard Haitink, watercolour 84 x56 cm. 1994. Birmingham Symphony Hall Collection.

One of a Collection of thirty-one watercolours, this was painted with respect, gratitude and affection for the conductor who has provided me with years of inspiration and indirectly had a significant influence in my life's work.

Monday 3 June 2019

Swimming in watercolour

A new series of three on paper:
Swimming in watercolour  

I nearly drowned as a small boy, so I'm still afraid to swim out of my depth. But my paintbrushes kindly showed me how to swim with watercolour, to splash and twist, to make strong plunging strokes with a wet brush, caressing strokes with an almost dry brush and at times seeming to walk on water. I've established a friendship with my brushes that is still exciting, although not entirely without anxiety. "Follow the brush" is the motto of many an artist in search of freedom. In other words, use the marks and shapes of each different brush as an immediate opportunity to improvise the rest of your graphic "story". As you follow the brushed flow, you intuitively take on an attitude of "let's just see what comes next". But what a challenge this is! 
These comments reflect the influence of Asian calligraphy and aesthetic awareness on my work. Here's the Link to my 2012 blog with more details on the Asian connection.
                                Floating in the Deep, watercolour 47 x 70 cm. (sold)

When I was an art college student in the 1950's, drawing and painting the nude was still regarded as a fundamental skill for any would-be painter, following the classical traditions. We learned to paint in oils, but over the years watercolour gradually became my preferred medium. I loved its transparent glow on smooth Arches Satiné paper, that helps it float on the surface. Now, as I began this new series, I wanted to combine memories of my early training with the nude model with my imagination of the body moving in water.

                              A lazy swim on the undulating waves, watercolour 40 x 62 cm.

If you know my work, you'll know how much of my inspiration comes from music. Yes, you guessed it: Debussy's La Mer and Jūra (The Sea) by Čiurlionis. After spending many months creating fluid lyrical abstract paintings on glass plates for my performance of The Sealive with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra in February, I now feel the need to return to working with watercolour on paper in the studio, with that music in the background. 

 Taking the plunge, 65 x 38 cm. (sold)

How to face your deepest fear? Take your Chinese brush, take a deep breath............
then just let go.

Tuesday 30 April 2019

Untitled 5. 2019

Untitled 5. 2019

exploring strength and sensitivity
 a brief encounter in space
less is more

watercolour 20 x 30cm.


Wednesday 24 April 2019

Tableaux Musicaux 1971

Tableaux Musicaux 1971

Yehudi opened my exhibition with kind words in fluent German and French. He had grown a beard that summer, so I felt in good company.

Nearly fifty years ago Yehudi Menuhin (1916-1999) invited me to exhibit some of my "musical paintings" at his legendary summer festival in Gstaad/Saanen, Switzerland. From the time we met in 1963, I showed up regularly at rehearsals with sketchbook in hand, trying to capture the magic of the music he made with his friends. Those friends included many of the greatest names in music, such as Wilhelm Kempff (piano), Eleanor Schaffer, (flute) Ravi Shankar (sitar), Louis Kentner (piano), Maurice Gendron and Paul Tortelier (cello) and the fabulous viola and piano/harpsichord duo Ernst and Lory Wallfisch.

You get a glimpse of Ernst in my 1969 impression (above) of a summer rehearsal of the Brahms Clarinet Quintet. Searching for alternative viewpoints, I would often sneak up into the balcony of that tiny church at Saanen so that I could look down onto the stage. In my early works I was looking for ways to make a composition of the shapes of such ensembles, but I had not yet learned to visually "fly" with their music. The Menuhin Festival and Yehudi's support became a major influence in that later development.

The music produced by the Wallfisch Duo was equal to their striking personal beauty. Of Romanian/German origins, their rich sound seemed to come from the deepest cultural heart of Europe.

           Ernst (1920-1979) & Lory Wallfisch (1922-2011)      

They were personally so modest and kind, musicians who played with such wisdom and love for every detail. It was a privilege to have known them. My deep sadness that those mentioned above and whom I painted are no longer with us is only alleviated by their recordings. But recordings of the Wallfisch Duo are relatively few. I only recently discovered this priceless video interview of Lory Wallfisch, in which she speaks of precious memories, such as how they played for the great Romanian composer/violinist George Enescu in 1944. As I heard the tones of their Schumann's Märchenbilder (Fairytale pictures) in D major, the last movement to be played "slowly, with melancholic expressivity", I couldn't hold back my tears. Probably made not long before Lory's death, this 6 min. video is an historical treasure. Watch it here:

Afterwards Lory plays the first movement of Enescu's First Piano Sonata.

I could find no credits for this beautifully made video, but I'm grateful to Bruce Stanberry for posting it.

Wednesday 17 April 2019

Untitled 4. 2019

Untitled 4. 2019

This series of abstract watercolours
 offers me the freedom to enjoy making marks and to 
experiment with colour and forms, floating in space. 
You can enjoy it as just that, 
but it may also trigger your imagination. 
What could this be, I hear you asking? 
Ah, it reminds me of um..... a flock of birds, an approaching rain-shower, manna from heaven, an eye, a rainbow, the jackpot, a comet about to hit our planet, a message from outer space, etc. etc. Well, have fun with all that if you like, but don't let me put associations in your head, 
because there weren't any in mine.

After years of mainly figurative painting, it comes as a relief to paint something that doesn't have to look like anything.

Yes, I did a spontaneous rough sketch of an arrangement that pleased me, but after then I tried not to think about anything and just see what would happen. 

It's a watercolour without a title (32 x 47 cm).