Sunday, 4 January 2015


Happy New Year to one and all!

I started my New Year on a happy note, watching the engaging artist Christian Hook win the Sky Portrait Artist of the Year award 2015.  This is the self-portrait which resulted in his selection as a competitor:

  He has prompted me to get back up on my soapbox once again, and even to re-examine my own processes along the way.

Any artist who watched those trying to win the coveted prize would have found the programme particular, I was fascinated by how many used the camera quite openly - in fact, I was, perhaps because I am somewhat old-fashioned about some things, slightly horrified to see them taking pictures of the sitters on their ipads, and then, with hardly a glance again at the sitter, they worked directly from those images.  I felt it was rather rude to the poor person sitting for them for 4 hours, quite frankly - if I had been that sitter, I would have been not only rather upset, but also rather irritated, I think - what on earth is the point in sitting, painfully - because it IS painful to sit still for four hours - if the artist doesn't even look at me!  However, in each episode of the programme, there were several artists at work, and some of them did work from the sitter - so the sitters had to suffer I suppose. 

Christian, the winner, works partly from photographic reference material...but in his case, the photo is purely a starting point. He said - and I am paraphrasing here - that he feels the camera produces a finished piece of work, and it is the artist's job to take things further, in order to express his creativity.   This earned a huge round of applause from me and is the main message of this blog post.

Christian likes to create a mess on his canvas...for quite some considerable time.  He then begins to "find" the portrait in the mess....but even then, he will regularly ruin what he creates, in order to deliberately make mistakes, and come back strongly again from those mistakes.  He likes to have a sense of movement in his images - and achieves this powerfully.

Here is his portrait of Ian McKellan. What a brilliant likeness, and what an exciting image, created within just four hours.

And here is, alongside Ian McKellan, a commissioned portrait of Amir Khan, the boxer.  Khan asked Christian to show, somehow, within the portrait, that he is not just a fighter, but also a compassionate man who does lots of work for charity and with children.  Notice the moving forward arm, at the base of which is Amir's hand, enclosing the small hand of a child.  
Christian Hook shows that he does not slavishly copy his photographs, instead, he used them purely as a vehicle for his creativity.  At some point, although the portrait is anatomically correct with every measurement of the face absolutely spot on, he shifts into a different gear, and the paint is moved around, pushed, pulled, scraped, bullied sometimes, responded to with sensitivity at other times,  every brushstroke helping towards a finish piece which is not just lively but also uniquely creative.
If you live in the UK and can get the programme on catch-up TV, do watch Christian working with actor Alan Cumming to produce a portrait for the Scottish National Gallery, it is quite an extraordinary programme.  Christian was allowed to do three "warm-up" portraits before embarking on the finished piece.  The camera crew filmed those pieces and we were able to see a most unusual creativity at work.  His first warm-up was fairly straightforward;  the second one was a collaboration with Alan Cumming, who was encouraged to do some painting on the canvas, and Christian then painted over some of the resulting image to produce a fabulous portrait piece, leaving some of Alan's work still there.  The third warm-up was rather mind-boggling.  Alan was encouraged to DANCE to a piece of operatic music, and Christian tried to copy his movements - so as Alan moved an arm out to the left, Christian moved his brush in exactly the same direction.  Somehow, a portrait sketch emerged during the process.  It was quite something to watch.  You can watch some of this last warm-up here:

if you would like to see more of the portraits painted for the competition, you can Google Sky Arts Portrait Artist of the Year, and I believe there are also some time lapse youtube vids to watch too - tho I could not find the recent ones. 

Maybe this time of year is a time for contemplation of our process, to see if we too can become more uniquely creative. 

1 comment:

  1. Fabulous post! Thought provoking and motivating! That quote alone could be life changing for an artist. Thank you, Jackie!


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