The people in my portraits and figurative works are contemporaries though infused with the Romantic mysteries of an earlier age. They arise in me like apparitions before emerging on the canvas. I feel their spirit – some innate quality or trace of them – before I start to paint. They begin as color and emotion, heartache and hope. Music inspires me deeply. I sometimes feel a figure being drawn out of the murk by a stray line from a song.*
*It’s always interesting who appears when I listen to Antony and the Johnsons.
I never think of my figures as fully formed. Who among us is ever complete? Nor do I think of them as isolated rather than self-contained. They inhabit a private realm of their own mystery – a fractured, dreamlike perception of space existing outside of time. In their rough individuality and the potency of their allure, these figures gain a psychic power that is transfixing. They are haunted and haunting, seducers and the seduced.
As a self-taught artist I found my own way to inspiration. The Old Masters introduced an empathy to portraiture that weighs upon me. I’ve been influenced by French figurative work of the 17th and 18th century, such as Fragonard and Boucher, who focused on detail, ornamentation and a playful erotic energy in their paintings. I’m most fascinated by the subversive spirit that runs through Max Ernst, Francis Bacon and now Mark Ryden – artists and provocateurs not afraid to challenge expectations. As Baudelaire wrote in the 19th century – “Strangeness is the indispensable condiment of all beauty.”
Each figure contains within them a secret that only close study can puzzle out. There is often that sense in old portraits and early photographs – when the representation of a person was very constricted, perhaps only one image carrying their truth beyond them. An enchanted moment pregnant with potential.