As soon as you get some skills with a paint-brush, people ask you a portrait. But this is an extremely challenging exercise which requires a daily practice. I am not skilled in this work. And I would even say that I never do this exercise spontaneously. It is why I have opted for what I call the free portrait. However, when someone asks me a portrait, I meet this challenge because I know that through this exercise I learn more … on myself!
The art of portraiture is a practice which got soon mandatory in the history of humanity.
Since ancient times, men have got the habit to mold the face of the deceased to remember. The aim was to make an accurate replica so as to fill their absence.
Later on, in some religions, the portrait of a holy being was used to worship one’s wisdom.
Then came portraits of people in high places, burning incense to the “noble blood” of some in the eyes of others, even propelling them higher by presumptuous stagings.
Still later, some anonymous faces became more famous than kings as “girl with a pearl earring” by Vermeer.
And over time, artists have broken away from all similarities stuck on reality.
After all, why just drawing a head, as André Breton said with malice : “But everyone knows what is a head.”
Artists are more concerned by the representation of human nature and history rather than by a portrait- reality..
As the matters vary, creativity is released and thus renderings and desired outcomes as well.
I am upset by some portraits because, by freezing a moment, they have caught the character in one’s temporal entirety. I am thinking of the portrait of Guillaume Apollinaire by his friend, the painter Giorgio de Chirico (whose paint is described as metaphysical). In 1916 he chose to depict him as shadows plays with a circle drawn on the left temple. Apollinaire was wounded two years later during the First World War by a piece of shrapnel in the centre of the same circle.
Andy Warhol made a disturbing portrait of Jackie Kennedy, cold and violently contrasting, in blue and black, on the day of the attack.
He represented the key moment, when smiling, she is still the pop icon and when the beginning of a tragedy is already announced by the fugitive representation of her husband in the background.
The art of portraiture is obviously an insight in the privacy of the model, conscious or not, whether we like it or not. Representing a person is always a disturbing moment. As well, presenting one’s work to the model is a tricky moment, as the acceptance of the other is not guaranteed!
Do not draw what you are thinking this person is. Rather dive in one’s mystery with candor as simply as possible. With the eyes of a child dazzled by the discovery of something never met before.
Who is there ?
With a free portrait we do not seek to achieve an accurate photo-copy. So take the opportunity to make an interpretation of the person at a given time. I often start with a sketch from life as appetizer to feel this character. Avoid being classic as the first example above, because the rise is tough and seriously slippery.
Thanks to a sunbeam, with paint-brushes for buildings like that at one go, with sand, as a complex fabric, minimalist with wire… Here are some ideas. And invent some and let me know all your finds!
Anyway, pay a great benevolent attention to your subject, and feel convinced that inspiration should arise. This strong consideration for this character will drive you to express in a certain way the beauty of one’s human nature. Be original, go on! And if you are not pleased with the outcome do not give it! But if a sensible impression gets free, give it as a gift.
It is always a huge surprise to be seen through the eyes of another.
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