Dad Making Me - A father and son story.
Words by Jamie Coreth.
"50-year-olds bring with them mature judgement and valuable experience. I like the idea of challenging the conventional wisdom that internships are exclusively for young people. People of all ages are looking for ways to enhance existing skills and learn new ones."
My degree at university was in something entirely different, Archaeology and Anthropology. I absolutely loved the subject and to be honest never really gave fine art much thought whilst I was studying it. Dad, as a sculptor, was always the artist in the family and so there was part of me that didn’t want to trespass on his territory, but it was in the year after graduating that I went to do a summer school in drawing in Italy. It was enough to trigger a realisation that drawing and painting felt far more natural to me than anything else and my focus and energies very quickly came to be directed into learning to improve my technique
The more I have worked on becoming a painter, the more my sensibilities for painting have refined. It increases your sensitivity to the world. You end up enjoying and seeing beauty in the strangest things: the way light falls across objects; the shapes and designs of people and faces and clothes; the experience of sight; and the depth and ambiguity of and expression (to name a few).
I try to remain honest to the impression of what I see and try to paint something of the experience of somebody being there on the other side of the canvas. I always begin my work on a blank canvas, with a slightly greyish tone. I try to paint broadly and lay down the large impression of a scene as if you were looking at it from a great distance. In the first sitting I shoot to cover the canvas entirely with paint. In the following sittings the process remains the same but the image refines gradually until the painting seems to resonate with my impression of the scene.
My father’s approach sculpture has been the single biggest influence on the way I conceive of a painting. Whilst we deal in entirely different mediums (him sculpture, animals mostly, and me painting), he works with a breadth of impression and conveys a sense of energy and life that has always inspired me. Of course I also look towards certain great painters as well. To name a few of my favourites: Goya, Velasquez, John singer Sargent, Dennis Miller Bunker, JMW Turner, Monet.
I would describe my style as impressionistic and painterly, probably.... to be honest, I try not to think so much in terms of style. Certainly I have experimented with it plenty in the past, initially painting mostly in acrylics, but since I have really focused on becoming a painter my approach has been to attempt to paint the impression of a scene with as much honesty to what I see as possible. Then by the mere process of making a painting, in the same way was you can’t help but have a certain type of handwriting, you fall into a style. I see many painters going after style and this, to me, often seems to result in the adoption of visual gimmicks (flashy brushwork for the sake of flashy brushwork; drips; palette knife impastos etc).
Dad Making Me was something he and I decided to do a while back but finally got around to doing this last December. Given it’s a relatively strange thing for a sculptor to raise a painter, I thought it could be an interesting father-son project to make portraits of one another at the same time. I think there is a dialogue involved in simply the process of doing this that struck me as being quite interesting. Also, it is fair to say that dad has quite literally shaped who I am, and so whilst that is a side note, I liked the fact that the idea could be read into.
The speed at which dad works presented a real challenge in making this portrait. He finished his sculpture way before me, so in the end he very diligently posed, pretending to sculpt as I finished off my painting. Setting up the composition was the hardest bit though. His studio is always filled with sculptures he’s been making and getting the sense of the studio to be represented in the painting without overriding the subject matter took some doing and a huge amount of shifting things around.
My father and I have always been very close I wanted this portrait to be a record of our time together, and I wanted to capture the way dad is and moves as he works. I have always hugely admired him and his work has always been a part of my life. From a young age I would help with his projects. Adding bits here and there to his sculptures. I stuck a mouse onto a statue he made for the Globe Theatre when I was six. It got cast. I also also made a frog that ended up on a drinking fountain he made for the Natural History Museum. In other roles I would help him mix plaster for his larger sculptures (including a life size bull elephant) and carve ice with him (on a project he called The Ice Bear Project).
The portrait was painted over the course of a month with around ten sittings in oil paint on linen canvas, I love the versatility of oil paint and the way it handles. If it works and is successful, then I’m glad of it, but I find I am so close to the painting that I struggle to see it objectively in those terms anymore. I hope there is nothing forced about it and that the idea works because it’s not just a sculptor working but it’s a painting of a sculptor sculpting the painter who’s painting him and happens to be his son, who he’s had a very formative role in creating as a person.
In terms of the future, I’m working on a number of portraits at the moment and I am developing a number of ideas for some large multi-figural painting, which relate to other interests in my life. I think what I found interesting about this project was that the experience of working in his presence felt very different to working on someone I don’t know so well. Not so much in the execution of a painting but I think I can tend towards being more self-evaluating and self-critical at home.
You can find out more about Jamie’s work at www.jamiecoreth.com
"Given it’s a relatively strange thing for a sculptor to raise a painter, I thought it could be an interesting father-son project to make portraits of one another at the same time."
If you liked the story above, we think you will also like these related stories from our In—Common library.
My story — how I got my confidence back.
Helen Walmsley-Johnson had plenty of confidence as a child but where did it go (more)
How we grew bolder
Why the fear of getting older inspired Dominique Afacan and Helen Cathcart, both in (more)