Portraits and conversation

I’ve been reluctant to post this for ages as it’s a picture of me, but the fact it’s by a talented colleague has (eventually) overruled that decision. The portrait is by Chris Webster, who runs the animation course at UWE.

We started teaching at UWE on the same day in 2002. Met at an induction day at Frenchay campus, and we both knew instantly we were the only two who were from the (then) Art, Media & Design department, as we were the scruffiest people in the room. I was honoured when Chris ask me to sit for a portrait a couple of years ago. Sat for him three times and this was the result. He sent it to me this summer by email, and in the email exchange he didn’t know my dad had recently died, and was shocked and sent his condolences.

Now in a strange way this portrait of me reminds me of my dad, not by looks, just by association. Funny how we can join arbitrary dots in meaningful ways, that probably only makes sense to that person. Anyway, thanks Chris, you’re hugely talented and a pleasure to work with you.

(He’s not even on Instagram, so I can say what I like about him! 😂 But I’ll screengrab it and email…)

Whilst sitting for Chris we spoke on a deeper level than ever before, on topics such as health, religion & spirituality, leisure, family, creativity, many things. The act of sitting in each other’s company entouraged a more heartfelt conversation than the surface work ‘banter’.

Theorist Walter Benjamin talks about how art contains an ‘aura’, the substance of which is the interaction of the artist with canvas, and all the essences related to when then artist was in the mode of making. So the aura is the captured experience of the artist inbued in the artwork.

(Benjamin was specifically contrasting hand rendered artworks with photography, but I’m not getting into that debate here.)

My main point is, an artwork, and particularly a portrait, has many stories to tell and qualities which might make them special, not all if which can ever be seen in the surface of the artwork itself. All of these elements come together to provide an artwork with a story, and with ‘value’. The arts market buys into the story/value of an art work, in the same way as an individual, just some have more money to spend. When artworks sell at auctions for millions of pounds/dollars, what’s being bought and sold isn’t solely the surface artwork itself, it’s also the aura.


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