"The creation of art is not the fulfillment of a need but the creation of a need.
The world never needed Beethoven's Fifth Symphony until he created it. Now we could not live without it."

-Louis I. Kahn, Architect

Saturday, 9 November 2013

Face proportions

The proportion of the human face is about 3/5 (either male or female), an approximation of the so-called "golden section".  A 2/3 or 5/8 proportion is just as good.

As you can see the eyes are situated approximately at 1/2 of the height of a human face. We often make this mistake and it is due to deformation by the perspective, ie the angle under which we look at a face.
The common mistake is having a too short forehead (and therefore the eyes too high). This comes from the time when we were children and looked at adult faces from the lower perspective of the child we were. Since most have stopped drawing then, people tend to keep this "perspective" which is not the one as adult!
Hence this common mistake...

"Donna con cappello verde“, Woman with Green Hat By Pablo Picasso, 1939

Based on my experience as portrait painter:
  1. the human head is facing us vertically to the ground (proportions change when the subject is looking upwards or downwards) *
  2. the head is inscribed within a rectangle with approximate proportions of 2/3 or 3/5 (roughly those of a letterhead). I found these proportions after using many photographs of people with short hairs (or bald) to better locate the actual limit of their skull (haircuts are misleading)
    Note: when drawing a baby’s face this proportion is closer to a square’s: (roughly) 4/5.
  3. the ears are OUTSIDE of the rectangle (since they are floppy and their size/shape vary)
  4. the eyes are located at (roughly) 1/2  of the rectangle height (i.e. when faces are vertical to the ground)
  5. the length of the nose is (roughly) the same as the distance between the center to the eye  corner : they can therefore be inscribed within a circle whose center is situated between the eyes
  6. when still the mouth position can be found by drawing a circle inside the rectangle (diameter is equal to basis of the rectangle) – of course any expression (grin, sorrow etc)  will affect the size and position of the mouth…
* this explains why children (or adults who have kept this habit) tend to draw faces whose eyes are situated too high (therefore with a too short forehead):their point of view is as seen from underneath!

Based on these tips, my daughter did the following portraits of herself and her grandparents when she was 14:

Monday, 21 October 2013

What's the Time?

© Yves Messer

This post has moved to my other blog "Two Cultures?"

Sunday, 6 October 2013


This post has moved to my other blog "Artivism, or Art with a Conscience".
"One percent" (2012) © Yves Messer
“Indifference” is originally a philosophical concept that was developped and defended by the “Stoics”.

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

To Louis I. Kahn, architect

"The creation of art is not the fulfillment of a need but the creation of a need.The world never needed Beethoven's Fifth Symphony until he created it. Now we could not live without it."-Louis I. Kahn, Architect

Music: King Crimson - The Sheltering Sky

Louis I. Kahn was a great inspiration when I studied architecture at university in Belgium. Hence my videoclip as a "glimpse" into the "Architect's mind." I never could have met him as he died in 1974, four years before I started uni. Instead I (very briefly) met with his "European equivalent": Mario Botta in Lugano (Switzerland) in 1982 trying to explain him why I considered his architecture was consistent with the philosophy of... Plato! (He probably thought I was a lunatic) lol

Mario Botta. "Casa Rotonda", Medici House in Atabio, Switzerland, 1980-1982
Axonometric projections of the floors.

Sunday, 15 September 2013

Portrait of Philosopher Sascha Norris

"One thing I have always loved about philosophy is that it is centered around ideas. And ideas live in the now. Yes, there are ideas from the past -- and there is a history of philosophy that goes back for centuries. But what excites me about philosophy - taken separately from what has been written about it in the past -- is that it is fresh. It is, essentially, a 'living science.' It is the science of living ideas. And we can take those living ideas and let them teach us how to create the best life we can create today -- not tomorrow, not next week or next year."
From Living in the Present, by Sascha Norris, Philosophy Editor at BellaOnline's 
Read Sascha Norris at My odyssey, a Journey Through the Mind
Her Facebook page.

Did Beethoven's "Immortal Beloved" die?

The “Immortal Beloved” (German: Unsterbliche Geliebte) is the mysterious addressee of a love letter which Ludwig van Beethoven (1770 – 1827) wrote on 6–7 July 1812. The apparently unsent letter was found in the composer's estate after his death and remains a mystery until now (a film was made after this).
The Third Letter
Though still in bed, my thoughts go out to you, my Immortal Beloved, now and then joyfully, then sadly, waiting to learn whether or not fate will hear us - I can live only wholly with you or not at all - Yes, I am resolved to wander so long away from you until I can fly to your arms and say that I am really at home with you, and can send my soul enwrapped in you into the land of spirits - Yes, unhappily it must be so - You will be the more contained since you know my fidelity to you. No one else can ever possess my heart - never - never - Oh God, why must one be parted from one whom one so loves.
But how could he call her “my Immortal Beloved”? Was she “immortal”, i.e. non-human, not made of flesh?

In contrast, French poet Charles Baudelaire (1821 – 67) had a very different view on that question: he viewed his beloved lady as just made of flesh whose fate is all too known: decay and death, describing this with the most ghastly spectacle in his poem “Une Charogne" (A “Carcass” or “Rotting Corpse”), published in Fleurs du mal / Flowers of Evil, 1857. Here his poem starts:
My love, do you recall the object which we saw,
That fair, sweet, summer morn!
At a turn in the path a foul carcass
On a gravel strewn bed, 
Its legs raised in the air, like a lustful woman,
Burning and dripping with poisons,
Displayed in a shameless, nonchalant way
Its belly, swollen with gases. 
He concludes his poem with:  
Yes! thus will you be, queen of the Graces,
After the last sacraments,
When you go beneath grass and luxuriant flowers,
To molder among the bones of the dead. 
Then, O my beauty! say to the worms who will
Devour you with kisses,
That I have kept the form and the divine essence
Of my decomposed love!
Charles Baudelaire

How different this poem is when compared to Beethoven’s letters to his “Immortal Beloved”! In Beethoven’s mind, unlike in Baudelaire’s, she is not supposed to decay, since she is “immortal”. Is she then real? If so, where is she now as an “immortal” being?

Both artists suffered physically with poor health. Beethoven suffered from tinitus resulting in deafness by his 30th birthday High lead concentrations in Beethoven's hair were found in independent analyses. This is evidence that Beethoven had lead poisoning which may have caused his life-long illnesses, impacted his personality, and possibly contributed to his death. Later in life, possibly due to heavy drinking, he developed liver disease.

Baudelaire suffered with gonorrhea and had picked up syphilis, the disease that was probably the cause of his own death. His long-term use of laudanum (a tincture of opium), his life of stress, drink and poverty had taken a toll and Baudelaire had aged noticeably.

I cannot help but compare Baudelaire’s view with a Damien Hirst’s obsession with decaying death. His rotting sharks’ installations were entitled: “The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living.”

In my coming book, I so called my first chapter:  “Is something Rotten in the State of Contemporary Art?”, paraphrasing here Shakespeare’s Hamlet.
Quoting myself:
It is now fair to say that anyone could be an artist. It is no longer necessary to ask whether this or that could be a work of art since the answer would always be yes. Since Marcel Duchamp's "readymades", artists are taught to believe they have now the license to call anything art, so long, and this is the "key argument", they call it "art." This is a “circular reasoning”: an "artist" is called so because s/he does "art." How do we know this is "art"? Well... because s/he says it is! This is "circular reasoning," i.e. a "logical fallacy". So since anything could now be called art, logically anyone can call him/herself an artist! Therefore if "anything" can be called "art", so "nothing is art". We are indeed witnessing an end-of-art situation. A smell of corpses, so well symbolised by Damien Hirst's rotting sharks or cows he calls "art".
Beethoven, as an artist was very different. Despite the odds, and like a Stephen Hawking but unlike a Baudelaire or a Hirst, Beethoven had a non-cynical optimistic view on human life and fate.

It is the same difference between needing to touch someone physically and touching someone‘s heart. Baudelaire was obsessed with touching his "beloved one" physically, never her cheart. He was often comparing women to prostitutes. Unsurprisingly he suffered from syphilis. Beethoven maybe never met his "Immortal Beloved" or touched her "physicially" yet he is "touching" us.
Yes his "beloved" is “immortal”, as is his art because it is still touching our hearts today.

As French poet Antoine de Saint-Exupery (1900-44) once wrote:
“It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”
Le Petit Prince, Chapter 21 (1943) 

I know, I am a painter...

In 1812, when Beethoven wrote his love letters to his "Immortal Beloved", he had just completed his 7th Simphony... the theme at the end of John Boorman's film "Zardoz" when "Zed" (Sean Connery) and Consuella (Charlotte Rampling) escape their "immortality" to experience a mortal life.

Beethoven on his deathbed

Friday, 16 August 2013

Rembrandt and I

Rembrandt dared painting notables, people in power as real persons. So did I with Kate Middleton.
With extracts from "Simon Schama's Power of Art" Rembrandt (TV Episode 2006).

Rembrandt was and remains my main artistic inspiration.

A sketch of Rembrandt I did in 1991.

Saturday, 20 July 2013

Sunday, 14 July 2013

"Expectations": my portrait of Kate Middleton, Duchess of Cambridge

This is my response to artist Paul Emsley, a 2007 winner of the National Portrait Gallery BP Portrait Award for portrait painting. 
Few have shown some disappointment, because my portrait "doesn't look like a photograph" and that she is not "glamorous" enough, not "smiling" as she uses to, etc. (Then why a painting? What about Kate Moss by Lucian Freud?) 
In my paintings I always focus on the personality of the subject and try to avoid the distraction of pomp and 'perfection' attached to an officially commissioned portrait. 
My portrait's title is 'Expectations' as there are so many, and at different levels, from those of a future mother and beyond.
I therefore find painting her "branded smile" to be inappropriate, from my perspective.
Hence the title, because many "expect" so much from a portrait!  
I dared painting her as a real person. 
If it is a crime, I apologize.
 © Paul Emsley (2013)

For the record: I am a Republican in the tradition of a Thomas Paine, I am not a monarchist. I therefore consider monarchy as an institution belonging to the past and should remain there. Although I disagree politically with the institution, I respect persons such as Kate Middleton.

Note: Kate Middleton and Prince William left St Mary's Hospital on July 23 with the royal baby boy in tow. Watching live, I was amazed by how much Kate Middleton looks like the portrait I did in mid-May. I called it "Expectations" adding a sunny background since I painted with that day in mind. Yes the day the baby was born was sunny and once she appeared outside of the hospital with him, she looked so much like my painting, especially her hair (for which some harshly criticized me). I was right, my  critics were wrong. PS: I am not a psychic.

Monday, 1 July 2013

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

1. Stardust

“The atoms of our bodies are traceable to stars that manufactured them in their cores and exploded these enriched ingredients across our galaxy, billions of years ago. For this reason, we are biologically connected to every other living thing in the world. We are chemically connected to all molecules on Earth. And we are atomically connected to all atoms in the universe. We are not figuratively, but literally stardust.”

― Neil deGrasse Tyson

We talk about the cycle of life on Earth, but it exists in the heavens as well. Stars are born, live out their existence, and then some explode when the hot Iron core of supermassive stars finally is unable to withstand the gravitational pressure and causes the star to explode and die. When they die, their outer part is driven into space, they scatter into the Universe the elements needed for planet formation and, eventually, for life to arise. 
Death of a star leads to the birth of life somewhere far away in the galaxy. As Carl Sagan was fond of saying, we are "star stuff..."  

I chose the Crab Nebula as my background, that is all the "star stuff" that remains of a tremendous stellar explosion.  The Crab Nebula has been an important part of own human history, dating back to early Chinese and Arab astronomers as early as 1054. It is such a massive explosion that the  energy radiated out in this explosion is more than the total energy emitted by our star, the Sun during its entire life time. A Supernova explosion in a galaxy is brighter than the rest of the entire galaxy! In 1054, this celestial event was so bright that it was seen in the day time. It was easily the brightest object in the sky, besides the Sun and Moon, for several  months.

Birth and Death don't they look like the two faces of the same coin? 
The death of a star leads to the birth of complex life form. Isn't this amazing? Earth, life on earth, we humans all are made up of supernova explosions such as the Crab Nebula. 
As humans, we are part of this phenomenon called "Life". Our existence  depends entirely upon our ability to reproduce ourselves, to procreate. Hence the composition of my painting; a sexual intercourse between a female and a male, both remnants of stardust acting on top of the Crab Nebula... 

This painting will be part of my exhibition on art + science "Two Cultures?".
Who are we? We find that we live on an insignificant planet of a humdrum star lost in a galaxy tucked away in some forgotten corner of a universe in which there are far more galaxies than people. – Carl Sagan 

2. "A Star is Born"

In 1995, the Hubble telescope captured a spectacular image of the Eagle Nebula. Dubbed the 'Pillars of Creation', scientists believe these images to show the birth of new stars; interstellar hydrogen gas and dust are incubators for new stars. 

This painting will be part of my upcoming exhibition on art + science "Two Cultures?".

Who are we? We find that we live on an insignificant planet of a humdrum star lost in a galaxy tucked away in some forgotten corner of a universe in which there are far more galaxies than people. – Carl Sagan 

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

3. "Pillars of Creation"

"Stardust" (150 x 150 cm - 2013) 
I started it in 2010 - but was unhappy with it. See my post then. 
Still using Hubble Space Telescope's photo "Pillars of Creation" the center of the Eagle nebula. The tower of gas that can be seen coming off the nebula is approximately 9.5 light-years or about 90 trillion kilometers high, depicting a large region of star formation. The view is a 360 degrees panorama, giving a sense of alleged "positive curvature" of our Universe.

This painting will be part of my upcoming exhibition on art + science "Two Cultures?".
Who are we? We find that we live on an insignificant planet of a humdrum star lost in a galaxy tucked away in some forgotten corner of a universe in which there are far more galaxies than people. – Carl Sagan 

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Portrait of artist Emma Stace Darling

More HERE.

I was (partly) inspired by Sandro Botticelli's Venus (~1485)

Sunday, 8 April 2012

The Name of the Game

Artists' worth relies on fame and name, i.e. a signature
In today’s art market, such a name has become a brand. No matter how good or bad the artwork is, provided it is signed with a “recognized name”.  
For instance, the Spanish surrealist painter Salvador Dali gave away around 20,000 blank sheets of paper with his... signature, triggering a flood of forged Dali prints.
British journalist Mick Brown bore witness to one such scene. He was in Dali’s suite at the Ritz Hotel in Barcelona in the summer of 1973, he said, and watched the maestro churning through “a large pile of blank sheets of lithographic paper. As Dalí signed each sheet, his companion and muse, Amanda Lear, joked that ‘that’s another $100,000 Dalí has made this morning’...

That year, celebrated genius artist Orson Welles had these deep comments in his “F for Fake” film:
"Our works in stone, in paint, in print, are spared, some of them, for a few decades or a millennium or two, but everything must finally fall in war, or wear away into the ultimate and universal ash - the triumphs, the frauds, the treasures and the fakes. A fact of life: we're going to die. "Be of good heart," cry the dead artists out of the living past. "Our songs will all be silenced, but what of it? Go on singing." Maybe a man's name doesn't matter all that much."

We live in a society dominated by a cult of celebrities, where artists have become "brand-names" to sell... anything but their own art. People are "famous", not thanks to their talent, but because they are "famous"... This hasn't always been the case...
With film extracts from "F for fake" (by Orson Welles), "The name of the rose" directed by Jean-Jacques Annaud, based on the book of the same name by Umberto Eco. Music "Fame" by David Bowie.

Richard Feynman: "What's the name of a bird?"

Sunday, 8 January 2012

Happy 70th, Professor Stephen Hawking and Thank You! ;-)

Portrait of Stephen Hawking: "Wink to Life". Technique: mixed (oil, acrylic, crayon, etc) on canvas. Size: approx. 66 x 66 cm
Dear Professor Stephen Hawking. I wish to thank you.
Thank you for your determination and stubbornness in life which is an inspiration to us all. I received your message addressed today quite well: "Be curious"(I am) and "Don't give up!" (I won't). This is why I decided to paint this second portrait of yours after this first one (end of 2009) after we met the year before.

Creativity is a very complex and “uncertain” activity. I tried then many different solutions/ compositions to convey both your personality and the scientific issues and challenges that have occupied your entire life.
I eventually destroyed these first compositions (see right-hand side picture) but decided to come back to one of them with a new approach based on my current research regarding C.P. Snow’s “Two Cultures” question : what is apparently dividing Arts and sciences and why so?
This portrait's background is an attempt to illustrate this crucial paradox (yet real) between two theories; the quantic and the relativistic laws of our Universe. I decided to "superpose" patterns from particle collisions against patterns from nebulae/ galaxies, … with us humans, the very complex ones, in between the very large and the very small scales. You are standing where “human complexity” does.

We know that your MND (Motor Neurone Disease) limits you immensely. It allows you now to use only the right-hand side of your face. Ironically, this physical handicap permits you to "wink" to us and to this Universe. A wink to “fate”. Hence your portrait. ;-)

My comments:
There are many winks in this portrait. Besides Professor Hawking's, there are both artistic and scientific winks too.
The background is incomplete on its left-hand side... on purpose. It "symbolizes" the so-called "theory of everything" (TOE) which Professor Hawking and his colleagues are working on for decades. At the forefront I painted what particles collisions look like when smashed into smaller pieces. The process appear very "random" and "chaotic"and I used dripping techniques from Jackson Pollock's. Although "chaotic" the particle collisions follow sometimes very geometric mathematical paths (straight lines or spirals)... Behind this, I painted nebulae/ galaxies which obey to Einstein's General relativity laws of gravity. These two "levels", the infinitely small (quantum level) and infinitely large are placed as in "perspective", trying to visually reconcile two seemingly irreconcilable theories, towards a so-called "TOE"...
Professor Hawking's "wink" is pointing both at this TOE and to Life itself.;-)


  1. A few weeks after my 2012 portrait, David Hockney was invited to do his portrait of Professor Hawking to celebrate his 70th birthday. It is now part of the Science museum exhibit.
  2. I also submitted my portrait at this year 2012 BP award of the National Portrait Gallery (NPG). This was the second reason why I finished it this January (the first being Professor Hawking's birthday). Why NPG? To give its curators and director an opportunity to redeem themselves after having  commissioned Professor Hawking's portrait in 1985 to Yolanda Sonnabend who delivered a very poor portrait. When visiting NPG, this portrait became my motivation for contacting him in 2008, and to learn we shared the same views on this poor portrait by Sonnabend. The 2012 BP award rejected my submission.

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Oliver Cromwell's portrait: “Warts and all” (2011)

ZOOM image HERE.

Doing the portrait of a historical figure such as Oliver Cromwell requires having a sense of History.
This painting was submitted to Huntington's Cromwell's museum.

Who was Oliver Cromwell?

Oliver Cromwell (25 April 15993 September 1658) was an English military and political revolutionary leader best known in England for his overthrow of the monarchy and temporarily turning England into a republican Commonwealth.
His rise to power was a consequence of the English Civil War (1642–1651), a series of armed conflicts and political machinations between Parliamentarians (Roundheads) and Royalists (Cavaliers), partisans of King Charles I (1600 –1649).
After the first Civil War ended, Cromwell tried to negotiate a “limited monarchy” but Charles’s intrigue with the Scots and perfidy led to a second Civil War (1648–1649) which he lost. He was tried and beheaded. His son was exiled and English monarchy was replaced with first, the Commonwealth of England (1649–53), and then with a Protectorate (1653–59), under Cromwell's personal rule.

Controversy around Cromwell’s legacy: his head

When Charles’ I’s son, Charles II returned in 1660 to restore the English, Scottish and Irish monarchies, he demanded that Oliver Cromwell's body be exhumed, along with those of two others implicated in the execution of his father. The bodies were removed from Westminster Abbey on 26th January 1661, to be tried and found guilty of high treason as revenge against Cromwell’s treatment of Charles’s father.
Four days later, on the anniversary of the execution of Charles I they were dragged to Tyburn. After a macabre hanging from the gallows all day before being taken down and having the heads severed from the bodies. It took more than one blow to remove Cromwell's head. Their heads were placed on poles on Westminster Hall as a warning to others. Another Cromwell ‘s death mask was then made and copies sent to every town and city that had been most loyal to the monarchy.
Cromwell‘s embalmed head was so displayed for 25 years.
At some point soon after 1684 the head either fell or was taken down. There is a strong tradition that it was blown off in a gale, retrieved by a sentinel, and hidden for many years. There is some evidence that it was in a private museum in London as early as 1710. It later passed to its next owner one Samuel Russell an actor manager, who had the head by the early 1770's and tried to sell it to Cromwell's old Sidney Sussex college in Cambridge, but it was refused.
It seems his head was later sold many times until it came into the possession of the Wilkinson family from the nineteenth into the twentieth centuries. Canon Horace Wilkinson, agreed in the early 1930's to allow two scientists full access to the head. Their conclusion was that the head was that of Oliver Cromwell (Pearson and Morant study).
Following Canon Wilkinson’s death, a suitable home was sought for the head.
It was again offered to Sidney Sussex College in 1960 and accepted by the College Council. The head was finally re- buried almost 300 years after it had been dug up from Westminster Abbey. It now rests somewhere within the ante-chapel at the College, the precise spot unmarked to ensure that it is left in peace.

Controversy behind Cromwell’s first image: his wax death mask

Cromwell’s wax death mask
Cromwell’s “wax” death mask is probably the best-known death mask of English history.
It was originally owned by Sir Hans Sloane (1660-1753) whose collection contributed to the founding of the British Museum where it is still displayed.
When Cromwell died, his actual body was initially secretly interred in Westminster Abbey. But unknown then to those coming to mourn and before it began to putrefy, a wooden effigy of Cromwell with a wax mask that lay in state at Somerset House. The funeral effigy depicted Cromwell as a King, a title which he had refused in his lifetime.
The “wax” death mask of Oliver Cromwell was taken after the embalmment of his body and it shows the cloth bound around his head to cover the cincture.
I decided to keep it instead of a traditional puritan hat or helmet, adding I believe more modesty to his memory. This way also reminds me of Rembrandt van Rijn (1606–1669)‘s  self-portrait as “St Paul”.
Rembrandt van Rijn ‘s  self-portrait as “St Paul”.
Death masks were widely distributed through private and public collections and were also used as models for posthumous portraits. By using his to realize his portrait, I decided to keep this old tradition alive... as his opening eyes witness this.

“Warts and all”… a Dutch “Vanity”

Commissioning a portrait was at the time as still is, intended to flatter the sitter. Cromwell was well-known for being opposed to all forms of personal vanity.
The first record of that famous “Warts and all” phrase as being attributed to Cromwell’s comes from Horace Walpole's Anecdotes of Painting in England (1764). It is said to derive from Oliver Cromwell's instructions to his painter Sir Peter Lely, and was reported in a conversation between John Sheffield, Duke of Buckingham, and the house's architect, Captain William Winde. Winde claimed Cromwell saying that:

"Mr Lely, I desire you would use all your skill to paint my picture truly like me, and not flatter me at all; but remark all these roughnesses, pimples, warts and everything as you see me, otherwise I will never pay a farthing for it."

Following his posthumous instructions, I decided to paint his portrait as truthfully to his real appearance, not based on his portraitures. I therefore decided to paint him after his death mask, i.e. his most faithful image. His last image too.

I chose to do his portrait in manner of a Ducth Vanitas painting.
Vanitas is a type of still-life that became popular in Europe, particularly in the Netherlands during Cromwell’s time.
Vanitas by Pieter Claesz (1772)
The term “vanitas” comes from the Latin word meaning “emptiness. The primary themes were impermanence, mortality, the meaninglessness of earthly life and delights when compared to the everlasting nature of faith. The idea comes from the Bible: "Vanity of Vanities, saith the preacher, all is vanity” (Ecclesiastes 12:8). Vanitas often have a human skull and a candle as a direct reference to man’s temporary existence on Earth.

I also thought that a 17th C Dutch style would be more appropriate than say Flemish Baroque painter Anthony Van Dyck’s (1599 –1641) who is most famous for his portraits of Cromwell’s enemy; King Charles I, his family and court.
Van Dyck was one of the most influential 17th-century painters in England. He set a new style for Flemish art and founded the English school of painting to be the dominant influence on English portrait-painting for the next 150 years. The portraitists Sir Joshua Reynolds and Thomas Gainsborough of that school were his artistic heirs.
But Van Dyck was born in the Southern Netherlands, a region recaptured from the Dutch Republic by Habsburg Spain (1581–1713). It is now called Belgium, a country where I come from.
To highlight the Dutch influence over Cromwell, I decided to paint him in the style of this Dutch contemporary painter Rembrandt van Rijn.
As an artist I am deeply influenced by his “light and shade” technique and painted using his style/technique for many years. Rembrandt was never about flattering his subjects and used to paint rough with thick paint.

Cromwell’s Dutch card?

When William II, Prince of Orange and head of the Dutch Republic died in 1650, it gave hopes to Cromwell that the Dutch Republic might join the Commonwealth in a military alliance against Spain.
Cromwell’s hopes may have also been supported by the contribution some Dutch did to the draining of the “Fens” from East Anglia to gain more land over the sea, a region he knew well as MP of Huntingdonshire and Isle of Ely (where I live now). Their draining was initiated by one Cornelius Vermuyden (1595 –1677) a Dutch engineer who introduced Dutch reclamation methods to Britain.

To this purpose, Cromwell sent in 1651 Oliver St John to The Hague in Holland as one of the envoys to negotiate a union between England and the Dutch Republic, a mission in which he entirely failed, leading to the First Anglo-Dutch War (1652-54).
However, Cromwell had another card up his sleeve; he also wanted to attract the rich Jews of Amsterdam to London so that they might transfer their important trade interests with Spain from Holland to England. Contacts were made with Amsterdam’s chief rabbi Menasseh Ben Israel, a client and friend of Rembrandt. Cromwell invited the rabbi to come over to London in September 1655, after the end of the Anglo-Dutch war, to negotiate the return of the Jews to England (expelled by King Edward I in 1290).
My Cromwell portrait is a kind of posthumous gratitude from the Jew I am.


Saturday, 7 August 2010

Portrait of Richard Feynman

Richard Feynman (1918 –1988), one of the most brilliant theoretical physicists of this last century was also one of our greatest minds.
In 1965 he received the Nobel Prize in Physics for his contributions to the development of quantum electrodynamics (QED), jointly with Julian Schwinger and Sin-Itiro Tomonaga. He developed a widely used visual representation for the mathematical expressions governing the behaviour of subatomic particles, which later became known as “Feynman diagrams”. Yet Feynman despised honours and “academic” authorities. He even considered refusing his Prize!

Feynman was not just “another scientist”, he was a larger-than-life character.
His contributions were not limited to science but were also artistic. He was indeed a good painter, a poet and an enthusiast bongo player!
His innate "child-like” curiosity and creativity caused him to be “labelled” a “genius”.
His personality was as summed up by General Donald Kutyna: "Feynman had three things going for him. Number one, tremendous intellect and that was well known around the world. Second, integrity…..Third, he brought this driving, desire to get to the bottom of any mystery. No matter where it took him, he was going to get there, and he was not deterred by any roadblocks in the way. He was a courageous guy, and he wasn't afraid to say what he meant."

Unlike Professor Steven Hawking, I couldn’t have had the chance to ever meet Richard Feynman. However his writings, his filmed interviews, his recorded lectures, his drawings, paintings and poems have survived. They were all created by the same mind and can reach us as if still alive.

Helped with pictures or videos available on the Internet, I tried to capture his colourful and engaging personality: intense, deep yet frivolous.

The background looks like the “chaos” of particles collisions. This is no accident. I used here a technique similar to a Jackson Pollock’s “dripping paint”. But unlike Pollock, I didn’t stop there.

In my portrait of Feynman, his body posture has a Y shape. This is my preferred letter. I believe this was his too.
Here is one of his poems:

I wonder why?
I wonder why?
I wonder why I wonder?
I wonder why I wonder why I wonder why I wonder?
(In "Surely you're joking, Mr. Feynman!")

"The Art of Richard P. Feynman". Compiled by Michelle Feynman.
More from my upcoming book "The eye inside