I can be ever the procrastinator when it comes to a lot of things, not least of all executing art projects. I often have a head full of ideas, and as such, some of them can stay on the back-burner of my mind for years, sometimes, before they see the light of day.
With this most recent of paintings, a portrait of a young man likely no longer with us, the process from idea to fruition of said idea hasn’t been so long. Only a few months. At the beginning of the year I was inspired to do a series of portraits based on photographs that are now in the public domain. I liked the idea of bringing back to life some of the folk one can find on the interwebs from the turn of the last century. There are some great old photos out there, which Bill and I waded through and from which we selected our favourites and put them in a file for my further perusal.
I can complete a life-sized portrait in 3-5 days in watercolour. I wanted to see how long it would take me to do so in oils. To date, this will be my first life-sized portrait in oils. Turns out, it’s about the same, even if the process is somewhat different and a little bit more unnerving due to the very unpredictable and highly malleable nature of the oils themselves.
I began with a graphite sketch of a young man from 1930s Rwanda, then Ruanda/Urundi, and still under Belgian colonial rule. Bill and I have tried to find out what this man’s name might have been, but to no avail. The photographer hadn’t made a note of it. However, I’m assuming the photographer’s interest was in the young man’s hairstyle, which was a version of the Amasunzu hairtyle popular among both Rwandan men and women, and as much a sign of social status as it was cool points. The hairstyle is still popular in Rwanda today, especially among the upwardly mobile young.
When I got the idea for this painting the full colour version came to me in an instant, so I knew that I had to make his shirt a deep cobalt blue, and that his skin should be very dark. The red ground was just supposed to peek through in places, however, the background was a dark blue too. Now that I’ve reached this stage of the painting, I’m actually liking the red background, although I wanted to try and incorporate the colours of the modern Rwandan flag somewhere in there and perhaps some other elements symbolic of Rwanda. I wanted to give this young man life again, and perhaps restore some of his honour by giving him a name. I’ll reveal that when I complete the painting.
For now though, I need to let this layer of paint dry before I refine the painting further and decide on how I’m going to proceed with the background. In the meantime, I may go back to working on my New York painting. I’ll post soon with an update on my progress.