This is a portrait I did a while ago but have never shown it. Its actually a posthumous portrait from a photo. I found it in a folder titled ‘other portraits’ and not having seen it for a while I thought in the end it is probably something worth revisiting. Its interesting because I was trying to work out how to start a portrait in acrylics and then glaze with oils. I’m still trying to find a way of painting that I can settle on. I’m a bit of a technical magpie and am always hopping around seeing what works and what doesn’t but never quite satisfied with where I am. So often I find portraits from a while back and I can’t remember how I did them! Looking again at this I can see that maybe there is a way to construct a painting that has a subtle quality I’m seeking. I have different drawing styles too and one way I build up drawings is to add a lot of lines, tightening and sharpening the drawing as I go. This reminded me of that because I have used thin glazes of acrylic paint to construct the head which gives it a quality that appears both taught and is open enough to breathe. This way of slowly building up an image also reminds me of stone carving. In stone carving though there is no room for error! This way I can continue correcting, adjusting and tightening the image until it works. I thought about learning how to paint a portrait alla prima, and I may still do this as I don’t have a way to paint a portrait quickly ie in a single sitting. I have held back from doing it because there is something that irks me about the way all alla prima portraits seem to look the same as if they were painted by the same artist. All the artists I know who use this method have been taught how to do it in the same way, and for me there is something overly technical and not natural about everyone doing something in exactly the same way. People and artists are all unique individuals and surely art education is about trying to pull out that potential and individuality in a person’s work. Maybe its just sour grapes as I couldn’t do it as well as other artists. My modernist art education still hangs heavily over me and it goes against the grain to think about doing things in the same way as everyone else. But the question remains, what to do and how to do it?
Here is the first pass on the acrylic:
Then I use oils to give it a bit more depth. Its all about the process for me. I get a lot out of slowly building up layers of paint, and having some room to breathe, allowing some human error to infiltrate the photo reference. I don’t actually mind working from photos and perhaps there is no difference between working from photos or from life as everything is photons bashing against my eyes anyway. I believe you can know someone from a photo and that you don’t have to meet them to know them in this way. Obviously it helps to meet someone in person but how well do we know people really anyway? I don’t feel I know myself sometimes and I discover new things about myself all the time. I really believe that there is a reality of a person that the photograph has captured and its the power of the artist’s subjectivity that can reveal this in a painting. Photos are different to paintings because they capture only the most fleeting moments of life. The life is still there though but sometimes photos don’t capture someone because the moment held is so bried it is almost a fragment of life. So there are good and bad photos when it comes to painting from them. I feel that an artist working from a photo can extend the moment captured and develop it into something deeper and longer.