This commission was fun from start to finish. Gus made contact with me, having been given a portrait of himself for his 60th birthday by his family. Although we didn’t actually know each other, there were so many connections between us – he is the bursar at my old school – which both my sisters also attended many decades ago, as well as my younger sister’s (the photographer Millie Pilkington) daughters more recently; and one of his greatest oldest friends happens to be one of mine, and so on and so forth.
His family were keen for the portrait to feature his piano and a glass of whisky, A piano can be quite disruptive in a painting as it has a very long horizontal keyboard and, if it is absolutely straight, it bisects the image, which is not ideal. So, for these purposes anyway, where I want a feeling of fluidity and harmony, it’s important to have it on an angle. Usually navigable with a bit of furniture moving.
This was slightly easier said than done as the piano at Gus’ house is a baby grand that is tucked right in under the stairs in quite a small hall. Luckily I was able to contort myself in such a way that, I could just about get enough distance from the subject to get enough of the piano in.
The sitting was great fun. With the gentle sound of his wife Tracey in the background in her studio, conducting a zoom pilates class, Gus immediately entered into the spirit of it all and it wasn’t long before we got the right pose – sitting astride the piano stool, with one hand on his thigh and the other resting heavily on the stool, very relaxed.
On the music stand is a collection of various different sheets and books of music, and between him and the music is a glass of whisky in his favourite glass which features his family crest. Because of the piano, the pose is quite square in shape which means more ‘background’, The pictures behind fill the space nicely and the red lamp gives a point of interest and helps take the eye around the canvas.
I am so pleased with this portrait. It exudes warmth and humour and kindness and a comfortable energy. More importantly Gus and his family love it too. When they came to pick the framed portrait up, Tracey burst into tears (in a good way!).
That is when I know I’ve got it right!