I’m sitting still in a comfy chair. I haven’t been told to sit still bit I feel that I should. The chair is a big leather one of the sort that Bond villain might sit in to stroke a white cat before carrying out his plan to steal some nuclear warheads. I’m not used to sitting still, to be honest; I’m a bit restless, always wanting to get up and put the kettle on or reach over to grab my phone to check twitter or to see if I’d got any new texts. But I sit still and watch the sunlight streaming through the window. I’m trying to look thoughtful and mysterious and a bit bohemian at the same time, which is making my nose itch.
I should explain my leather-bound lack of movement: I’m having my portrait painted by the brilliant artist and musician Richard Kitson, and I reckon that if I don’t sit like a statue I’ll end up looking like a blur.
Richard and I have been working together on the brilliant Barnsley Museums Up The Swanee project, making art and music and poetry and stories with the people of Kendray; watch this space for news of a big performance sometime in the autumn. Richard has that rare ability as an artist to capture someone’s entire self on canvas, which is very hard to achieve. Often, in my experience, a portrait scratches the surface of the subject (not literally, of course, that would smart) but it seems to me that Richard goes deeper, showing the essence of who the subject really is.
At the end of one of the Kendray sessions, Richard asked me if I’d fancy having my portrait painted and I hesitated but only because time is my sworn enemy and I knew that I wouldn’t have days to sit still but he assured me that I could sit for a couple of hours and he would do some painting and take some photographs and we could take it from there, so I agreed.
Richard’s studio is on Eastgate, in the same building where for years there was a private detective that older readers will remember; as I wandered up from the bus station to the studio, I mused that a painter, particularly a painter of portraits, is a kind of private detective, finding secrets and truths and things that might be hidden from view, in this case in eyes and mouths and the lines on a face.
That part of town is rapidly becoming a Cultural Quarter, with the Experience Barnsley Museum and the Cooper Gallery and The Civic and Richard’s studio and another studio in the same building. It’s Barnsley’s Left Bank!
I went upstairs to the studio and sat in the chair. Richard looked at me like an optician might, taking in the contours of my face in a professional way. I thought about the last time I’d sat for an image like this and it would have been on a station when I needed a picture for my new passport; then, as now, I had to remember to sit still. I had to try not to blink, although it wouldn’t have mattered if I’d blinked in Richard’s portrait session. I had to stare straight ahead for the photo and I had to resist an urge not to grin. Grinning was allowed in the portrait, as was looking around. I remember standing outside the photo booth and watching myself appear four times in the little sheet of photos and it was as though I was identical quads. Quads that stared ahead and didn’t grin or blink.
The other time recently that I had to stare ahead was when I foolishly agreed to have facial recognition on my banking app; you have to stare ahead and this time you have to blink and you upload your photo and then when you want to do some banking business you have to blink at your phone to prove it’s you. It’s a blinking faff, I can tell you. Sitting for a portrait is much easier; you can blink for pleasure, then.
As I write this the portrait isn’t completed but Richard is well on the way towards the final fizzog, as I’m sure portrait painters say when they get together. I can’t wait to see the result; Richard is such a brilliant artist that I’m sure it will look more like me than I do!