Portrait Artist of the Year – An Interview With David Freud and Heather Williamson-Morton

Portrait Artist of the Year 2018

Friday March 23rd doors open 4.30pm FREE ENTRY. – More info here

Rob Kelly in conversation with Heather Williamson-Morton Curator of the St. Paul’s Gallery and renowned Local artist David Freud.

I think I would call myself an art lover, but I must confess that I could no more create a painting or portrait than I could swim the English Channel. That’s why I find the whole process so fascinating and mysterious. If like me, you are keen to see how talented artists create a portrait from a blank canvas to a finished work of art, then get yourself along to St. Paul’s Worthing on Friday March 23rd.

Feel free to wander round, sample cheese and wine and watch as fifteen local artists create fifteen portraits in four hours for one prize of £500. Entry is free, and several sitters have been invited to be subjects for this wonderful competition.

There will be no shortage of experience and expertise on hand, indeed one of the judges will be renowned local artist David Freud, (son of Lucian and great grandson of Sigmund). Joining David will be Gallery curator Heather Williamson-Morton amongst others

Earlier this week I had a chance to discuss this unique event with David and Heather and began by asking them about the genesis of the competition.

What inspired you to create the Portrait Artist of the Year event?

Heather: My lovely Gallery assistant Cathy Verney came up with the idea last summer, so it’s been simmering in the pot for a while. When we all sat down to discuss priorities, we decided that this one would be a great start to the new year for St Paul’s. It’s been a real collaborative project between the volunteers and staff at St Paul’s, and hopefully the first of many to come.

David: St Paul’s volunteer, Cathy Verney came up with the idea and worked closely with our volunteer Curator, Heather Williamson to bring it to fruition.

Is this connected to the Artists open houses we see every year in Worthing?

Heather: The WAOH’s have been helpful with advice and we are looking forward to working with Hazel Imbert as one of the judges of the event.

Can you tell our readers a little bit about your background in the arts world?

Heather: I was fortunate enough to be able to study a part-time BA honours in Fine-Art Sculpture at Northbrook MET following the onset of chronic health issues. I ended up doing a lot of curating whilst studying and that seems to have followed on after my studies. I always really enjoyed curating and working with artists to find creative relationships between the spaces, the artworks & the viewers.

David: Success for me as an artist arrived this decade with one major show after another. These included; Deathbed portraiture and ‘stone impressions’ regarded the death of my father, Lucian. “Portraits” launched with a talk at Oxford University. Worthing Museum & Art Gallery hosted my collaborations with ex-partner Debbi Mason and a show at University of Arts, London.

How will the day proceed, what will the format be?

Heather: St Paul’s will be closing early on the day, so we have time to set up the staging for the sitters and get everything ready. I’m excited about the whole day, it’s going to be great to finally meet the sitters & artists and have them together in the same space.

Anthony Dickinson, the manager of St Paul’s, has planned some delicious cheese boards which will be allowed to breathe (I love cheese!) and a great selection of wines will be prepared.

Doors open to the public at 4.30pm, and we really advise getting there for opening time because David will be introducing the sitters and artists at 4.45pm. We know this is a tricky time for a lot of working people, but we know it will be worth the effort! We’ll be selling raffle tickets for that very special prize of a portrait of your choice by David up the value of £5000. All proceeds from the raffle go back to the Charity that helps keep St Paul’s running as the amazing community arts venue that it is.  We’ll also be selling a limited edition run of postcards on the night only, again all proceeds go to the St Paul’s charity.

Do you have an idea what you are looking for from the entrants in terms of medium, style, canvas size?

Heather: What I’m looking for? I’ll know it when I see it. It’s more about the personalities involved; has the artist achieved what they wanted and does the personality & character of the sitter in that moment shine through. It sounds quite ethereal and, in some way, I suppose it is; the way an artist can capture certain qualities in a sitter reflecting that place & time is almost magical, or at the very least highly skilled.

David: I have no idea what I am looking for from the entrants but when I see it, it is clear and strong. When the character in the painting demands to be heard, I cannot refuse.

Is it just for professional artists or can anyone take part/submit? 

Heather: Absolutely anybody who fancies having a go is welcome to do so! We pride ourselves on being grounded in the community and accessible to all. Although under 18’s need to be accompanied by an adult.

David: Anyone can take part. The quality of submissions was really outstanding, so it has been really difficult to select just 15 artists. The selection process had to be brutal and it was very difficult to choose just 15 artists from those that submitted a recent example of their work. Two professional artists that I know of didn’t get selected for that final 15.

Please note that submissions are now closed, but members of the audience are invited to bring their sketch book and join in the fun.

What do you think is key in portraiture? Is it a true likeness or is it capturing an essence, or maybe it could be both?

Heather: I think what will be key to the portraiture on the night will be different for each artist, depending upon their working methods and point of view.

Who is your favourite portrait artist and why?

Heather: Oh well that’s easy, I really like a series of self-portraits I saw a couple of years ago by Elinros Dianadottir, they are full of energy and personality.

If you had to give some guidance to entrants what would it be?

Heather: Be yourself, relax and enjoy the evening. I think this kind of event is quite unusual, and very far from the idea of the lonely artist painting in their studio for days on end. In that respect this is a high-pressure way of working. Anyone who puts themselves forward for that deserves credit for their bravery alone. At the end of the evening I really hope the artists take away some great memories alongside their canvases.

What do you look for in a sitter?

Heather: We looked for personalities that were active in our community, but also with links to the arts scene in general. We’ll be introducing our lovely sitters in the days leading up to the event so keep an eye on our Facebook page!

Will all the portraits be displayed after the competition.

Heather: Yes, we’ll be displaying the work for one month in the Gallery where we’ll also be running ‘The Peoples Vote’, where members of the public can vote on their favourite piece of work. I’m really interested to see how this works out because the works will be being looked at out of the context of the evening event, I’m interested to see how that changes people’s perceptions of the work.

If you had to sum up a great portrait in one sentence what would it be?

Heather: A work of art that exudes the character & personality of the sitter, through the eyes of the artist.

David: If I had to sum up a great portrait, I would say it is a work in which the sitter exists more really, more intensely and naturally than they do in their skin.

In your opinion what does a portrait painting bring that a portrait photograph doesn’t?

Heather: I think that it’s very difficult to compare painting with photography. Both can be highly skilled art forms, the processes involved in each form is however quite different. I guess the main difference is that with photography you are always seeing the final image mediated through the lens of the camera. The subtlety and nuances of distortion created when looking through a camera lens as opposed to looking through the human eye is very telling. Indeed, a lot of portrait painters use photography as an aide memoir instead of sitting time, but they would never base the final piece on an image taken from a photograph. I think what makes a portrait made by an artist is not whether it’s a painting or a drawing or whatever medium you like, it’s about the quality of the mark making in that moment and how that relates to the wider work and the sitter. Each individual artist will mark their canvas or paper differently, the quality of that mark making is crucial to any work of art because it’s through those highly individual marks (seen through the human eye) made by the artist that the sitters image emerges.

David: painting brings empathy and feelings from the artist to it which are inaccessible to a photographer.

St Paul’s Worthing is a valued, community resource, art centre and music venue, the team are always looking for new ways to support the community, to bring new, exciting and varied events to our beautiful building and to represent the arts in its many varied forms. We look forward to seeing you on the 23rd and we are sure you will enjoy the atmosphere as the 15 talented artists create their portraits in front of your eyes.

Watch out for more great events at St Paul’s Worthing and check out my blog Womu, a Worthing music blog at worthingmusic.wordpress.com

Rob Kelly

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *