Nick (A5 pencil on sketchbook page 2014-15)
In his new book on British portraiture Simon Schama cites some research undertaken at Princeton University that demonstrates
a reading of one 10th of a second is enough for us to decide whether we trust or mistrust a face, whether we want to engage or disengage from a countenance: a mere Tinder-swipe to settle our allegiance into a resolution no mere speech is likely to alter. It is this elementary social wiring that makes portraiture the most basic of all the genres of the visual arts.
He goes on to say: “A portrait must offer a good likeness, so the truism holds. But this raises an enormous question: a likeness of what exactly?…The greatest of all portraitists – a Rembrandt or a Goya – caught their subjects as if temporarily halted between a before and an after; an interruption of the flux of life rather than a becalmed pose.”
In her wonderful book, Drawing and Painting People, which I can’t recommend highly enough for anyone wanting a fresh approach to drawing their own kind, Emily Ball asks:
Should the final piece look like the person in a way that is photographically accurate for it to be a valid likeness? No. Should it be like the person? Yes, although a likeness can be visible in many subtle ways.
The title of this post does not imply any question about the parentage of my dear son, Nick: a comparison of our feet will demonstrate that we share the same gene pool. No, I’m misquoting Michael Jackson to say that I’ve not quite hit the target. Having seen this drawing, you might be able to pick him out of a group of twentysomethings in a crowded room; it also catches something of his humour and his warmth. It doesn’t, I don’t think, quite capture what Emily Ball calls ‘the gaze’: it isn’t quite Nick.
It won’t stop me from trying and trying again until, I hope, one day to have a picture of Nick – or of my daughter, partner, whomever – that actually nails that elusive Something that makes them what they really are.
This is the first of two posts on portraits this week: I have volunteered to join Teresa Robeson’s #Portrait challenge on the 25th.