I am working on two portraits of patients at present, and I am looking forward to beginning a third when the subject – a breast surgeon – comes for her first sitting very soon. All three paintings will form part of the exhibition for the Breast Cancer – a creative intervention project where my aim is to create a relational dynamic – an ‘aesthetic tension’- between the images of the patients on one side of the gallery, and that of a member of the treatment team on the other.
The images here show the beginnings of the ‘process’, with respect to one of the ladies I am working with and who has given me full permission to use the work here. I thought they might be of interest as an insight into how I go about what I do. The piece is far from complete and this is a form of self exposure for me, as an artist; there is so much vulnerability that lies beneath the surface of a ‘finished’ painting. But then I am asking for a similar form of disclosure from the ladies I am working with. I hope these images then will be received in the manner in which they are offered. The portrait is on a canvas four feet square.
The work on the portraits is naturally a very ‘visceral’ process. It is physically so in the sometimes forceful, sometimes gentle application of paint on canvas, the touch of bristle, the smell of the oil, and the physicality of the ‘dance’ I must continue as my arm moves across the canvas and my whole body moves back and forth. At the same time it is profoundly emotional as my thoughts and feelings while working engage in their own dance, which simultaneously evokes and provokes the reasons ‘why’ I am doing this work, which, in turn, are far more important than any intellectual parameters around ‘how’ to paint a portrait. Of course the technical aspects of the process are not insignificant, but it is the relationship with the person herself – whether she is actually there in the room or whether I am working alone from sketches, photos and responses to what she has told me – that is the most compelling in terms of achieving a likeness beyond resemblance.
The person, the subject, and the nature of being is a crucial issue for the particular sitter whose likeness I am attempting to capture here. In her very personal words then, in her story,
I think (personhood and womanhood) they’re the same. I don’t think they can be separated out. But, womanhood changes so much. Through aging, through interpretation. And I am a person, whatever anybody else’s interpretation might be, their idea of womanhood. For me womanhood is full of integrity and strength and so is personhood. But womanhood can be stolen if you’re not careful – by your industries and your sentimentalities….and so womanhood and personhood have to look after each other I think…I was never defined by my cancer so my breast cancer hasn’t changed me..the way I see myself or my womanhood….(after mastectomy) Amazons have porridge for breakfast!