At the end of last month I finished off the drawings for my project. Now I’m at the sorting, assembling, and ordering stage in the hope that a bolt of lightning might occur and I’m able to advance round the board, like in Monopoly. However, nothing has happened yet. Anyway, I know it’s not related to my project but having been engaged in my daughter’s ‘self’ for the past eight months, it has made me consider portraiture in more depth. I feel I need to comment.
My practice, rotoscoping, is a process which involves manipulating and rendering over the image. When having to draw a face or any face for that matter by the same process, I still intend to create a likeness, a truism of that person. However, in recent times, the face is now taken for granted in our selfie-obsessed society as we engage in our ‘Celebrate the Self’ platforms such as Facebook. Am I sounding too cynical? Probably an age thing.
When we represent someone in oil, graphite, ink pen or whatever, our intentions are to make that person become memorable. That’s what I get echoing within when I enter places such as the National Portrait Gallery. Yes, I want that person to be remembered and recorded for posterity. When the subject is in front of me, what goes through my head when faced with that daunting task of portraying that person on paper? Well, I still try to follow the same principles and considerations.
During the art school years of learning and discovering, I marvelled at portraits, especially the ones which oozed expression and were almost caricaturesque. However, the teachers were often very critical of my self-portraits for being too stylised and leaning too much on Austrian Expressionism. They were right. Funny how I vividly usually remember the critics.
I was always too shy to sit in front of someone with pencil and paper unless it was in a life drawing class, then I would uncharacteristically sit at the front! Other times I usually found myself drawing my subjects while they were performing. The lecturer gesticulating in a lecture, my friend quietly reading or a stranger sleeping on the train, for instance. The subject being unaware that a secret camera armed with a HB pencil or 0.5 graphic ink pen would be recording their being. Even then, I had doubts, something always eating away inside, lacking in confidence as usual. Can I read the face? Do I have the manual dexterity to nail that familiarity on paper?
The perils don’t end there. This constant argument with my inner voice posed other potential hazards. Is there a strong resemblance and should there be one? Also, which face should I aim to represent? The one that I usually see, privately see or a face caught somewhere in between? When drawing my ex-girlfriend, I wanted to capture her beauty. If I could capture her beauty, ultimately, she the subject, would be satisfied. In theory that is. But what happens when things go pear-shaped? I recall Katie not thinking much of her portrait and I don’t blame her. A beautiful woman savaged by crude, wiry, scratchy, graphic markings. I adore the portrait. Also, my portraits differ when being familiar or unfamiliar with the subject. The former can be the most intimidating as it involves a third party, possibly someone who is familiar with the subject. That person is able to comment, make judgement on my craftsmanship. The unfamiliar the subject, like our identities on social media sites, we are able to fabricate and deceive our audience. Amen
Portrait Building (2016)