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Portraits on Fire - but also turned out to be a movie review

I thought it would be a good opportunity for me to talk about four of my recent paintings. Why? Because some of you may have noticed an ongoing theme and the same faces over and over - those of Adèle Haenel and Noémie Merlant. Around June I watched the most beautiful movie I had ever seen. I generally prefer action, comedy, something with BANGS and BOOM and laughter, but there is another type of movie I really enjoy... romance. Not any type, but you'll soon be able to guess what type.

Céline Sciamma wrote and directed a movie I have now watched eight time. I very rarely watch a movie back to back because I find it repetitive and boring and well, I know how it ends. This one, no matter how mane times I watch, does not change the ending - unfortunately, but that's what makes it perfect. The movie is called Portrait of a Lady on Fire.

It is a film directed by a woman and all main characters are women. It takes place in a remote location and for an artist, it is the most beautiful film about the female gaze and the artist's gaze. I instantly recognized how an artist studies their subject to the point of falling in love with them. You learn how to appreciate any form because it is unique to that individual, but also because it's not so much the form you are trying to capture, but their soul, their personality. You connect with them at such an intimate level, it's very hard not to fall in love with them.

The manner in which Portrait was filmed, it makes you fall in love with everything about it. It's not trying to be intrusive, it has a very slow build up, there's not background music, you feel immersed in their world - unfortunately, as an observer who has no say. It is also a movie about Feminism and how, despite there being no men in the movie, the patriarchal society guiding their lives. It gave me a lot to think about and yes, viewing it countless times makes you see more and more. Every nuance, every frame a beautiful painting about their daily lives which I though was reminiscent of the Dutch paintings portraying simple daily life. And for some reason, Johannes Vermeer's "Dienstmagd mit Milchkrug" (circa 1658) always pops into my mind.

My mild obsession with that film has definitely had an influence on my future subject matter - once I finish my research, I will start painting and share it with you, dear reader. It also made me obsessively paint Adèle Haenel and Noémie Merlant, especially after I recently found out I could paint faces. When I started out painting around 7 years ago, I wanted - no... NEEDED to be able to paint the human figure, but especially faces. I dabbled, drew, sketched, but was never satisfied. Then I got distracted by flowers, and included them in everything until they became central to my paintings, including Flower Portraits. I outlined faces, and then covered them in flowers. I focused on eyes and lips until I could get those right in accordance to my standards. During this Covid-19 Pandemic and Lockdown, I decided to experiment. I also decided to paint faces.... When I finished the first one, it was a light-bulb moment. Had painting flowers ad nauseum actually given me the tools necessary to paint faces?!? Seemed so. After watching Portrait, I gave it a more serious attempt by painting them on a gessoed board - you know I am taking it seriously when I use a surface such as a gessoed board, or canvas. The result was... satisfactory, not perfect, satisfactory.

"A Season with Vivaldi" emerged. In the movie, Marianne (Noémie Merlant) is playing a stretch in Vivaldi's Four Season's Summer movement to Héloïse (Adèle Haenel). In this painting, I tried to capture Héloïse's first smile and the look between the two characters. I then decided I was not satisfied with my portrayal of Héloïse, and tried again.

I was a lot more satisfied with it this time. At a friend's request, I then painted the last scene in the move where Héloïse has made it to a concert and listened to an orchestra playing Vivaldi. It is a deeply touching scene, so I acquiesced. That resulted in painting number three portraying Héloïse called "Héloïse & Vivaldi". Followed by a painting of Marianne at the moment where she is looking at a portrait of Héloïse, which I called "Page 28". No spoilers, but the significance of that page with be familiar to anyone who has watched the movie.

Thank you for reading and hopefully, I will write another entry next Friday talking about the wonderful artist Alyssa Monks and her influence on my style.


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