Autumn News

I never get sick of looking at Old Masters paintings – they always inspire. In the past I’ve borrowed lighting, colour, compositions and stories from a range of my favourite painters. Some aspects are harder to borrow than others. Clothing for example: some of the intricate and colourful items that existed several hundred years ago just don’t occur in everyday life today. Where does an artist today find someone to sit for them with the sort of luxurious, billowing silk dress or intricate brocade that artists of previous centuries have captured? Our clothes today are far simpler – which is convenient but not half as interesting to paint. I would call them duller.

For a while now I’ve had a hankering to paint someone in a suit of armour. I’ve never quite gotten around to it because it’s just not the sort of item you have lying around. After recently reading a new biography of Titian, and seeing again his fantastic rendering of armoured patrons, I knew I had to give it a go. But where to find a suit of armour these days? Local costume places shrugged or offered a plastic replica. More promising was a local movie studio, who were able to point me in the direction of a genuine modern “knight” by the name of Craig Gillan. Craig teaches Medieval combat and has previously been involved in the Lord of the Rings movies.

Craig’s suit of armour is the real deal. It’s heavy steel, leather straps, the works. And it’s been lived in – the dents, cuts and scars all bear witness to real sword-on-armour action. This was the suit I wanted to paint. But for the composition I had in mind, I wanted to juxtapose this robust armour against youthfulness and vulnerability. On the one hand I wanted to capture the superficial gleam of the reflecting steel, but on the other hand I wanted to be able to convey a sense of the resilience and thick skin that the steel symbolizes. It makes me think of those among us who are somehow able to take the most brutal knocks and blows that come their way and who still get up the next day to face their challenges. This is how “Fortitude” came to be.

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