Artist in a Red Dress
Self assessment is always a difficult process. How to be honest while still portraying who you are to an audience. When I started this self portrait something bad happened in my life, on top of the current pandemic and isolation, it made me very sad. So in the early stages of the painting my portrait looked sad.
I didn't want the portrait, which will last for centuries, to reflect me in a moment of unhappiness. I'm generally a jolly upbeat person who generates positive vibes in the world. I had to do a lot of reflecting to work out who I wanted to be for eternity.
Once I admitted to myself that I am an artist, I don't have to look 59 in my self portrait. Then the painting became interesting. The Artist in a Red Dress took on a life of her own. Now she's performing for her audience. Looking them straight in the eye and showing them what she can do. The artist is settled in her studio, you see her working world. All the things that she surrounds herself with in the studio.
Unfinished paintings adorn the walls, and the floor. A stretcher bar from a sold and shipped painting hangs on the wall empty of it's canvas. The bright light from the snow on the roofs over the road streams through the window and gives a silver blue light to the room. Her old easel, covered in paint awaits a new canvas, while the artist finishes the large painting she's working on off to the right of the painting. The palette and colours she's using are in front of her on a stool. Her painting smock is hanging on a hook on the wall. Because the artist doesn't want us to see her in her working clothes.
I have spent many years running my own art gallery and meeting and painting in front of the public. Like me the artist in the painting doesn't want you to see her in her dirty paint covered clothes. She likes to dress up, and so you see me/her in an outfit I would wear to a Private View. The other side of an artists life, out in the world going to exhibitions. That's where you will see me. That's where we will chat about art and life. And that's how I want to be remembered.
It's my portrait, and I'll be who I want to be in it.
The Actor - He May Display Or Hide
This is a portrait of my son the Hollywood actor and screen play writer, Laurence Fuller.
Having drawn and sculpted Laurence since he was a child coming to see the subject in a new light takes on a new meaning in manhood.
For me this quote explains better than I can what I see in this portrait.
“In acting and speaking, men show who they are, reveal actively their unique personal identities and thus make their appearance in the human world, while their physical identities appear without any activity of their own in the unique shape of the body and sound of the voice. This disclosure of “who” in contradistinction to “what” somebody is—his qualities, gifts, talents, and shortcomings, which he may display or hide—is implicit in everything somebody says and does.”
Hannah Arendt, The Human Condition
Knowing a person so well can be an impediment and an advantage for the artist.
For me getting beyond the photographic, which never captures time, is the essential element of bringing a portrait to life.
The Actor - Who Are You
My son, the actor Laurence Fuller, has been acting since he was ten years old. For two decades I've watched him come alive on stage as someone or something else.
We all put on masks. Portray a version of ourselves we think other people want to see, or we want them to see. It's a fascinating aspect of the Human Condition that we are hidden.
Who are you really? Only you can know that. And the search to find out who you are takes a lifetime.
I hope that every person viewing this painting sees themselves. And that by viewing their guilty hidden selves they release something and become a better version of themselves, a more accepting version.
Some of my favourite artworks and literature tell of the animal side of our nature. The Tale of Gilgamesh and the story of the wild man Enkidu, the Golden Fleece of Greek Mythology and the Ram of Ancient Mesopotamia.
In our modern day culture, we have The Joker. From Roman through Medieval times, the Joker/Fool perhaps reached its Shakespearean heights as the jester in aristocratic courts across Europe. But she’s in all of us.
The three painting portraits in the studio. On the easel is the preparatory charcoal drawing for the painting The Actor - Who Are You.
As I was working on this drawing I realised that it looked like Laurence was wearing a mask. And it came to me in a dream that his mask could merge with his face. As all our masks merge with our true selves.
Many artists paint self portraits so that they can explore and experiment with likeness, because sitters are very often self conscious about their image.
I started doing portraits of Laurence when he was six weeks old. He's grew up in my studio and is familiar with the need for artists to experiment with image and the human body.
Very often my son is the progenitor for a new series, a new medium or another way of seeing in my work.
I feel I know his likeness better than my own and I know he is intrigued by the work that manifests from this freedom I feel to portray him through time.
My son looks like his father, most of his facial features come from his father's DNA> I have often looked at Laurence and thought, which bits are me. Studying him in drawings means I have to look and think intently about every facial feature. For the first time when doing these sketches I realise that one side of his upper lip is curved and the other pointed, like mine. It is accentuated from this right profile view.
It is particular interesting for me to portray someone who is beautiful and has a public persona. We come to think of actors as the characters they play in their greatest films. Or their image as that of the photographs on the Red Carpet at movie premiers. Just like women, men put on their beautiful face, or their masculine face.
In this day of the selfie, we all know our best side, and our best expression. Their is a look we adopt for social media. Our selfie face, the one where we shine and smile for the camera.
The pose that hides the aspects of our face we don't like. Our mask for the camera.
Works on Paper of Laurence Fuller from the past
I began thee charcoal drawing of my son when he was learning to crawl. Watching his attempts to get himself off the ground and move forward were so curious I began to do drawings in preparation for a sculpture.
Only with hindsight have I come to realise what a strange reaction that is to have for a mother. Very few female artists have children so there where not a lot of role models around for me to see how other artist mothers coped with having children.
My son has grown up with a distracted mother, who when I did pay him attention, was at times looking at him as a subject. Fortunately he developed a strong personality early on and had his own creative journey he wanted me to understand.
My stepdaughter has her own mother, so although she has also often been my subject she has a parent who looks at her only as a mother does.
This etching was done when Laurence was six weeks old.
Laurence Fuller 1986
Etching, ed. 3
14 x 12 cm
Previous Painting of Laurence Fuller
Boogie Boarding 2012
Acrylic on Board
30 x 40 cm
Surfing Lesson 2013
Acrylic on board
30 x 50 cm