John-Paul Flintoff

Portraits of the artist in a ________?

For no particular reason, perhaps because I was bored, I found myself copying a picture by Sickert on Saturday – and drew myself into it:

I posted the drawing on Instagram. Then the idea popped into my head (who knows how that ever happens?) that I might do another, but using an image by a different artist.

I googled Picasso, and the first picture my eye was drawn to was Guernica. I drew myself and my schnauzer Peanut, then posted that one too:

I was enjoying this, and know just about enough about artistic practice to follow what I’m most drawn to.

Next up was a Millais painting I’ve always loved. This time, instead of replacing one of the figures in the original, I just added my self-portrait standing in the middle:

I seemed to be stuck in the late 1800s / early 1900s. Wanting to shake things up a little, I looked for something earlier. Somehow (dunno how) I found the Velasquez portrait of Pope Innocent X that Francis Bacon famously reinterpreted before me:

For my next self-portrait, I settled on another favourite artist from you-know-when, Toulouse Lautrec:

And last night I “did” Modigliani, whose portraits have always struck me as beautiful and full of grace. I reckoned this would be a big challenge, because a) his portraits are generally of attractive young women, often b) naked, and c) usually located in spare – which is to say, anonymous – settings.

To be honest, I didn’t think I’d pull it off. I wasn’t going to draw myself naked: it wouldn’t be beautiful and graceful, just weird. And the lack of recognisable setting troubled me. All I could use, to conjure Modigliani, was his colour palette and the typically elongated head and neck.

I was in two minds about posting this one on Instagram, because whatever its merits it’s not recognisably a copy of a particular, well-known Modigliani painting.

But I posted it anyway, and it drew a very interesting comment, which I’ve cut and pasted (along with replies) below this picture:

Oddly enough it is different to modigliani and seems like your style. You are long and thin anyway. I really like this picture as it is pleasing as well as descriptive. Why not try doing a few portraits like this. Beatles and oasis.

@roberttwigger thank you. Quite right. It’s not sufficiently anchored in the peripheral detail to conjure Modigliani. And I am as you describe! I like it too though, so I posted it anyway…

@jpflintoff the colours are. But I think your version is actually better than a straight parody. That was my point. By trying to do his style you liberated something that works for you.

@roberttwigger ah, I see. Yes I think you are right – and I think that has been an effect of each of the drawings in this series. It’s either liberated or internalised something – or both

@jpflintoff they do say it is the way to learn…copy, copy, copy…then fly!

Posted: March 10, 2021

Keywords: drawing, self-portrait, robert twigger, art series

John-Paul Flintoff headshot, with Yours Truly written across it John-Paul Flintoff is author of six books, in 16 languages, including How To Change The World and A Modest Book About How To Make An Adequate Speech. He worked for 15 years as writer and associate editor on the Financial Times, the Sunday Times and other papers and magazines.

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