Saturday, 22 March 2008

The trouble with portraits

Portraits have been much on my mind of late. That's because I've got one that I've made a start on and I'm not sure how to proceed. It's like getting to a fork in the road and wondering which route to take. The trouble is I've got to the fork in the road almost as soon as I have left the car park and I've been at this point for weeks now, if not a couple of months. I know that I'll eventually solve the problem just by sitting down and getting on with it.

Last weekend we were fortunate to spend the weekend in Paris. Since at least one member of our party had never been to the Louvre we decided to make that our first stop. The Louvre is so enormous you have to decide which galleries you want to visit and stick to it otherwise it's easy to get distracted en route and end up a quivering, exhausted wreck by the time you leave the building.

We decided to aim for the Flemish paintings which I think were somewhere on the second floor. I always like looking at domestic interior scenes from this era. They seem so peaceful and serene and there is never enough time to sit and gaze at them. I could easily live with one in my house. Once our party had gathered together after roaming free around these galleries we decided that if you haven't seen the Mona Lisa once, in the flesh so to speak, then you have to make that your next goal and be prepared to traipse along endless corridors to get there. So this is what we did and eventually we arrived in front of the portrait which is smaller than you expect. It is displayed in the centre of a large gallery and always attracts a lot of attention from crowds of people and the scene is reminiscent of pilgrims worshipping at a holy shrine.

Lunch beckoned and the consumption of food and drink and general conviviality revived sore feet and tired spirits. By this time we had spent about four hours in the museum and were ready to leave the building and get some fresh air. Here our party divided into three smaller parties and set off to do different things. I was in a party of two and we trekked along the Rue de Rivoli on our way to the Picasso Museum. I think that Picasso and Piet Mondrian have been the two 20th century artists who have influenced me the most. Not that I aim to create work like either of them but I find they always have something to teach me when I look at their work in a way that other artists don't.

I hadn't seen any of these Picasso pieces before I'd visited this museum. The work displayed here covers his entire working life, from his teens until close to his death, which is remarkable since he lived until his early 90's. What I was reminded of when I was looking at his work was how prolific he was and his exuberance and confidence is evident everywhere you look. Even though the some of the paint is faded and cracked the work is still full of life and that is the quality I would like to capture in my own work.

The following morning we visited Montmartre for a laugh before heading back home on Eurostar. It is described as Paris' last village and is the highest point in Paris. It is wonderfully tacky and touristy and you can get a fantastic view all over the city as well as a good cup of coffee. Everywhere you go there are artists touting for business for it is here that you can get your portrait done in pastels, or pen and ink, or charcoal in seven minutes flat for the cost of 30 euros. My niece was willing to have her portrait done while we were there and she stood patiently while a pastel portrait was produced in record time. I was impressed with the speed of the operation and the fact that it bore a passing resemblance to the subject, except she did end up looking like a Spanish Senorina, but I was mostly troubled by the absence of any life or energy in the finished product. That has given me something to ponder over the next few weeks.

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