Saturday, 16 July 2011

Sunburnt Superman...

Last weekend was the 3rd Annual Arts Festival at Joseph Chamberlain Sixth Form College where I am a lecturer (I was hoping to write something sooner, but just haven’t had a minute this week, which included becoming qualified to drive the college mini-bus. I felt like I had become an Ice Road Trucker, not a mere minibus driver, I was that pleased).

At the Festival this year I decided that for my contribution to the activities I would set myself up outside and paint a series of small oil portraits of anyone interested in posing. I thought it would be more interesting to watch someone creating a painting, rather than making drawings like a street artist, as painting is more often something that is done more privately. Although the activity was essentially passive I sort of saw it a bit like a performance: I found a big old leather armchair for the sitter, used my sketching easel that I use outdoors, and strung a washing line between two trees and pegged up lots of blank sheets of oil painting paper. All good props. I would then take a blank sheet, create the small painting, and then peg it back up on the line.

It felt like a performance in my head, but I’m not daft enough to not realize that for those who took part it was seen it as a great excuse to get a portrait of themselves done for nothing, and that’s great too. It is a special thing to have done, and I was more than happy to do this. I just like the challenge of putting myself in these situations and trying to do something new.

I needn’t have worried about the activity being passive or being short of volunteers either: I had a constant audience and painted constantly for the whole day. It was exhausting, physically as I was on my feet all day in one spot, but more mentally having to deal with the constant stream of different faces one after the other in the moment, all the while being watched. I painted a total of fourteen portraits in one and half days. That added up to nearly three an hour after I got going.

I also installed as part of the Summer Exhibition a series of portraits. I decided to select a collection of my portraits of different men I’ve painted, which seemed more powerful and interesting conceptually than a more ‘democratic’ group of both men and women. It did attract quite a few comments about this aspect.

It has been great fun to connect a bit with my portrait work with the Art Festival, at a time when over the last two years I’ve been trying to focus on different subjects and themes. It is an area I realize I still really enjoy exploring, and this experience has re-invigorated some of my ideas about it, and my appreciation of this genre and my own place within it.

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