Work on the portraits for Winter Fires continues, alongside the meetings and conversations with older artists. The aim is to produce a conscious image of an individual that will work with the text to offer a richer understanding of the experiences of older artists. Here are a couple of the early stage sketches that give some sense of what is emerging.
It’s proving to be a fascinating – and slightly scary – process. The initial image is chosen from a series of portrait photographs that I make with the person at the end of our conversation. Where and how they want to be seen is up to them, though I have suggestions. Our conversation is very present and influential as we create an image.
The second dialogue is with Mik Godley, who is working from those photographs to produce images made on an iPad, using the Brushes application. (It’s difficult to call them either paintings or drawings since, although the result can look like either, the technique is completely different.) In those conversations, we’ve been feeling our way towards finished works that stand alone but also relate to what is emerging from my meetings.
Sometimes the results are startling and unexpected in their recreation of the original image but their reinvention is always enlightening, inviting me to think again. The circle will be completed when I take the portraits back to the people themselves: I have no idea how they will feel about them, but I’m hopeful they’ll value the thought that’s gone into them.
Why go to all this trouble? The first reason is that a non-verbal exploration of the issues is integral to the Regular Marvels idea. I believe that the interaction of two ways of knowing – in this case text and paintings – will produce greater insight than either of them could do alone.
But the more I read publications on ‘the arts and older people’ the more uncomfortable I am with the portrayal of their subjects. Individually, many of the images are fine, but cumulatively they give an impression of passivity, dependence and – most of all – age. It is no doubt unintentional, but age seems to become the subject of many of these photographs, especially those that show workshop activities.
Whatever else we may or may not achieve in this three-corned process of image making, Mik’s final work is not about age. His portraits are primarily character studies in which age is no more important than any other truth about a person. Which is as it should be.