Landscape painting has been my primary mode of creating pictures but, like any other artist, I have tried my hand at portraiture over the years. Developing a painterly style that is fresh and consistent in feel is a challenge as I believe that it is more important to capture a sense of the sitter’s personality, attitude and surroundings rather than simply copy a ‘photographic’ likeness.
I feel that no two portraits that I have made look exactly the same in style. This could be considered obvious given that the sitter is an individual person but each painting seems to require a different texture and approach. I often end up switching between more realistically rendered paintings and looser impressions. It is easy to overwork a portrait and lose the immediacy, especially if the sitter is situated in a more formal 'school photo' arrangement, leaving paintings appearing laboured and less interesting, even if a likeness is captured.
In a similar fashion to my landscape painting I prefer to create portraiture directly from life, in situational settings, which makes for a more relaxed environment and truer sense of the sitter. Two examples of direct situational portraits I have made are 'Mariano in Little Chef' and 'Joe', where I placed each sitter in an everyday scene. For the former I used fluorescent colours to help bring out the rather mundane environment of a motorway refreshment service; For the latter I attempted the portrait by using a large flat-edged brush to render the sitter’s facial expressions and simple domestic surroundings.
I am very much inspired by other artists’ portrait paintings, such as Martin Maloney's portrait 'Sony Levi', which I saw back in 1998, during my college days, when visiting the Saatchi Young British Artist exhibition ‘Sensation’ at the Royal Academy in London. I admired how Maloney used a cartoonish but informative approach with simplified forms and colours to create a realistic domestic scene. In much of his work, Maloney’s portraits appear somewhat garish and crude but also vividly convey the personalities and expressions of the people he chose to represent. I produced a handful of pictures in spirit of this approach, including another domestic-themed portrait 'Cindy & Alec', where I used brighter colours (as compared to my then-standard palette) and flattened and stripped away areas of detail in the composition. Unlike Maloney, I chose to use more conventional observational skills to gain a true likeness of the sitters.
A portrait reflects the uniqueness of the sitter, as seen through the eyes of the artist. I have always enjoyed the process involved in creating one, from setting up the scene to the subsequent three-way interaction between sitter, artist and painting medium. Self-portraits, on the other hand, are quite a different challenge in that an objective likeness can be difficult to reproduce, as the process is often a highly introspective one, resulting in a more emotive and autobiographical study. There is something liberating, however, in conveying feelings through paint, which is why portraiture often presents something more revealing than landscapes do.