I wanted to share with you my recently finished portrait of John Pat O’Reilly – an Irish soldier who was killed on the Somme in 1916 (more about his life here https://livesofthefirstworldwar.org/lifestory/3312649). So often when we think about the contribution of soldiers allied with Britain during WWI we think of the tremendous Indian and African commitment, and rarely about how the Irish fought alongside us.
Private O’Reilly’s portrait will be exhibited between 19 October 2015 – 2 November 2015 along with about 20 other “Forgotten Heroes” at the Michaelhouse Centre in Cambridge as part of the Festival of Ideas.
When I gave up my work as a international relations person who worked in conflict zones to become a full time artist, many people were baffled. They knew I liked life on the edge, and had a passion for danger, and a yearning to make peace from the most difficult situations. Art appeared a passive, low-risk option, that would surely not challenge me enough. The former me has lost my hearing in a Baghdad car bomb, had a gun pointed at me in Kabul (British soldier), and sipped coca-cola with Tamil Tigers in rebel held Sri Lanka – how was art ever going to be enough?
It wasn’t at first.
In my first year as a full time artist I decided to visit Karachi in Pakistan to make a film about it. I asked journalist friends in Libya to brig back a remnant of Gaddafi. I made art about conspiracy and made some dangerous allegations. I understand now I was lancing the cyst – getting creative expression out of my world of perceived dangerous moments. But I was never really allowing the art to come from me. I got close to it, back in 2010, I considered making sculptures of cars, but my mum had only just lost her life in a car accident, it was too raw.
A few years on and at last I am beginning to work creatively on things that are a personal passion of mine, rather than a former profession. Since I was a five year old taken to a stock car meeting I have loved the roar of an engine and the excitement of wheel to wheel racing. Perhaps it was in fact this adrenaline rush in my youth, and the visits to Santa Pod drag track in my teenage years, that lead me to want to witness danger in war zones as an adult. Perhaps I am just an adrenaline junky who likes big noises and near death craziness to make me feel alive. But I think it is more than that.
Just as I worked for peace in war zones, I like to witness miraculous escapes in motor sports. I don’t watch motorsports to witness death, I watch it to observe extreme survival. And although I shed a tear for Jules Bianchi and the story of the Dunlop brothers, I still understand the more serious threats to global stability.
It is inevitable then, that my art has to be about power, danger and survival. In recent months I have painted Transit vans, classic motorbikes, Aston Martins and rally cars (amongst others), but is it edgy enough for me? Now that I have a 9-5 painting job for another artist, my art is no longer driven by the need to earn money from my work. I enter a new chapter of painting pictures about more challenging motoring themes, I ask you to stay with me on the journey. It will be fast and furious, I promise.
My first two attempts at a half hour World War I sketch.
The fast changing landscape of surveillance and the globalisation of digital imagery calls for the counterpoint of intense, ‘local’ imagery contained within a painting. The possibilities of allegory and complex meaning are distinct: the symbolic realm can come to the fore. The conveying of character in a painted portrait is specific and dynamic. There is a process described through paint – an intensity to the relationship between artist and sitter – which produces a different character from the medium of photography. And it is this intensity, often freed from the conventions of previous periods which, gives a great portrait its authority. The painted portrait endures – Sandy Nairne
This gallery contains 12 photos.
Originally posted on MOTOR ARTS:
A few weeks ago I attended my second meeting of the Classic Racing Motorcycle Club at Pembrey Circuit in Wales. I took a thousand photographs and sketched some preliminary ideas – but this is my first finished painting. I thought I would write a little about why this moment inspired…
Originally posted on MOTOR ARTS:
As a portrait artist I often joked that I fell a little bit in love with every subject I have painted. It’s not quite a joke – there is a genuine sense of empathy that develops when you look at a face intensely for many hours. Scientists have done studies to show that if you look into the eyes of a complete stranger for three minutes – you begin to have some feelings for that person. The average portrait takes me over a month to paint – and by then I am head-over-heals.
I didn’t expect anything similar to happen with cars. I first met the GT40 at the Passion for Power show in Manchester two years ago. I was blown away by its ability to sit comfortably next to modern cars, despite its age. I spent time photographing three of the cars, and felt like I knew it’s dips…
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As elections loom in the UK, I thought I would express my distaste for the world of political positioning and their use of portraits of political leaders to “persuade us”. An extract here from my unportraits collection. See more here.
“Making portraits is a response to the natural human tendency to think about oneself, of oneself in relation to others” – Richard Brilliant
“Defacement works on objects the way jokes work on language, bringing out their inherent magic nowhere more so than when those objects have become routinized and social…” – Michael Taussig
Originally posted on MOTOR ARTS:
Last October I managed to snatch some special time with my 16 year old son, Billy, and was looking for something to do that we would both enjoy.
Billy is not that big into bikes, but like many he enjoys Mr Guy Martin’s exploits (the only book he has ever read cover to cover) and had (terrifyingly) recently acquired a moped from his father. I always had the view “four wheels good, two wheels bad”, when it comes to safety for my child, but there you are. Like me, Billy enjoys watching anything with wheels and an engine going fast around a track – something about the smell, the noise, and the speed that appeals to us both. The only thing I could find that looked exciting was the CRMC Classic Bike Championships at Snetterton. Niether of…
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