Oil, colouring pencil, household gloss and collage with timber structure, mixed media and lightbox structure
The commission to paint J.K.Rowling came about as a direct result of winning the BP award in 2001 at the National Portrait Gallery. Several aborted attempts to paint other people preceded the commission to paint Jo over the intervening four years. Jo and I, in a sense selected each other. I was given a shortlist of sitters and she a shortlist of painters. I was drawn to her principally because of my admiration for a woman who can successfully combine motherhood and a creative career. Jo told me that she had been drawn to my work because of the tiny paintings that I had done of a family of people with red hair; she confessed to sharing a fascination for people with red hair, which any readers familiar with the Weasley family in the Potter books should not be surprised about. At our first meeting in Edinburgh Jo and I discussed some ideas for the portrait, one of which was to depict her in a café in the act of writing. I felt that this was a little too literal and favoured making some reference to the idea of motherhood. Jo agreed with this and I came up with an idea in which she was sitting at a kitchen table eating breakfast with one of her children seen from the back, sitting in a high chair. On the table was to be a blank pad of paper and a pen- a reference to the unwritten novel, or on a broader scale, the as-yet uncreated work of art. I wanted to combine a sense of the everyday; domesticity: represented by the prosaic interior with a mother and her baby, with a suggestion of the creative idea that has yet to come into being. At this stage, I didn’t have any firm thoughts about whether or not the painting should be three-dimensional, though I had been flirting with the idea, if only in my own mind. Casual observers of my work might be surprised by the direction this has taken my work, but I see the incorporation of the third dimension as a very logical development in my work. Since a visit to Norwich Cathedral when I first saw the mediaeval roof bosses there, I had been experimenting with perspective in paintings, tilting the floor plan up, yet keeping a figure upright. It’s a logical means of describing a scene. The significant change came when I visited an exhibition of Regency Toy theatres at the John Soane Museum. It came as a great inspiration, the idea of liberating my figures from the page. I made a piece called ‘Scene from a play’ which was used as the front cover for a friend’s band called the Fallout Trust. This was a large three dimensional space containing two cut out figures drawn in pencil. It was exhibited last year in the exhibition Being Present at the Jerwood Space. I had an initial sitting in Edinburgh with Jo and did two drawings, one in pencil and the other, which was done in a café whilst Jo wrote part of the Mudblood prince, was in charcoal. I had two further, full weekend sittings with Jo at her house in the country. At these I worked directly in oil on paper. I had at this point decided to make the painting three-dimensional and so I planned to paste the painting on paper down onto board. We worked each day from 10ish through to 4 or 5pm. Jo was easy company if not, like many sitters at first, a little shy of the brush. When I had finished the oil on paper painting I decided that I didn’t like it and that it was too big, so back in the studio with photographs, the original painting and a number of drawings I began the long process of making the finished piece. Towards the end of the process I learned from the papers that Jo was to have another baby. By this time I had developed misgivings about the inclusion of one of Jo’s babies. It seemed to unnecessarily complicate the composition. With the birth of Jo’s third baby I decided to include three boiled eggs on her breakfast plate- a reference to her own three fertilised eggs.