Creating a portrait of an artist friend demands the determination to be true to both your subject and to yourself, says Billy Mann
I often remind fellow Submit to Love Studios artist Chris Miller that he paints an awful lot of pictures of himself. He doesn’t deny it, but replied recently with the suggestion that, for fun, we should make portraits of each other and promote the results as a kind of Comrades in Art idea. My portrait of Chris ended up like this:
I wanted to get Chris’s face in full physical flight, and that only happens when he’s talking. So, over a cup of tea at Headway East London HQ in Hackney, where we’re both members, I threw him a question, turned on my phone camera and later picked one frame from the recorded video. I traced this, traced it again and again over and over and reduced the image to a few simple lines, all of this using the Procreate app on an old iPad2. Then I printed it on to what looks like woodchip wallpaper but is in fact expensive art paper called Hemp (I liked the idea also that in the past, Chris might have been a bit of a stoner). Then came the studio work: the mounting on to card, the line work, the colouring, and finally the addition of the hand-drawn text.
People ask me if Chris is offended by the portrait. I tell them I don’t care if he is. He asked for my portrait of him and that’s what he got. Some say the words “EARS LIKE THE FA CUP” are cruel. Again I don’t really care what they think. Chris has big, sticky-out ears. He makes them a feature of his own artworks of himself.
But the thing no one except me knows about this picture, until now, is that the words “EARS LIKE THE FA CUP” are the closest the artwork will get to my signature. The term refers to something my late mother used to say about me when I was a teenager: “You’ve got women’s legs and ears like the FA Cup.” The other thing people most commonly ask about the image is “Who’s George Bailey?” I try to be polite in my answer, but it’s always tempting to ask sarcastically if they have ever been introduced to the wonders of both the search engine and classic cinema.
Chris Miller is Outside In Artist of the Month, July 19
● Other blogs by Billy Mann include neuro writings at Strokepost and assorted junk from years past at My Archive.