Dame Evelyn Glennie-Portrait Event

14th September 2016

It’s been one of my life time ambitions to have my portraits in the National Portrait Gallery. Here I was painting a portrait live in Room 20 at NPG of the world’s first deaf solo percussionist Dame Evelyn Glennie. What a surreal and extraordinary experience it was.

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Here we were, two pioneering women in a room full of historic paintings portraying people who were known as the reformers and abolishment of slavery. Evelyn and I looked at each other in wonderment and in awe of such amazing paintings with their majestic frames. In fact, I kept looking at our audience which was a huge sea of many faces armed with their pencils and paper, reflecting on how our Portraits Untold live event echoed the scenes in these paintings as another pioneering moment in the history of the Gallery. A first for them too to have a disabled artist in situ painting a live portrait that is being livestreamed. No one really knew what to expect and that’s what drew us all in, including myself and Evelyn. I do love leading the way!

The scene was set. Me with my mobile portrait studio, and Evelyn with her Waterphone and percussion tools laid out ready for many impromptu musical interludes that were about to emerge in collaboration with my painting of her. Oh and on the right there was another blank canvas waiting to be played! In front of us was an eagerly awaiting audience armed and ready to draw us.

And so we all began.

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As Evelyn and I began to find common ground through our lives and working practice as artist and musician through conversations about our education. Our shared commonality as to what makes us human was clearly there in our histories as we shared our stories. Drive, ambition and the constant desire to expand and develop as human beings, as musicians and artists is truly what makes us human beings. The search for the unknown and unexpected fuels our hearts, bodies and minds through the many wonderful collaborations we both have experienced, including this event.

As the drawing from the audiences both on our social media and in the room began to appear we both were in wonderment by the commitment and the diversity of images. I couldn’t wait to get some of them on my canvas.

The portrait of Evelyn was beginning to emerge and become a collective of her many selves as seen by the audience. The audience also decided to draw me, so I drew them projected on to the painting through the iPad Pro using the iPencil with an app called Pro Create.

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Evelyn spoke about sound of colour and about how movement is sound and we discussed whether there is such a thing as silence. As I began to embed the audiences drawing into the paintings using my iPad Pro, she began to pick up her Waterphone and a bow to play. Her playing soon became a collaboration; she began to play in response to my live digital projected drawing and I in turn responded with digitally painting her sound into the portrait. When we finished it was quite a revelation. We wanted more, to find out how far we could take this. Who’s leading who? Do we need more canvases? Evelyn now wants a canvas in her collection to play as an instrument and I am looking for a composed piece to play in collaboration with and to paint digitally with a musician or an orchestra. So watch this space!

My favourite moment of the event – the blank canvas with its’ white primed surface and its’ micro speakers hidden from view, poised on its’ easel awaited its’ destiny. Evelyn on the left of the canvas with her musician’s tools, and me stood to the right of the canvas armed with my 6B and 4B pencils. And something very strange and wonderful happened in a unique way; Evelyn physically played the canvas as a percussion instrument and I drew with my pencils a portrait of Evelyn. During this performance piece, as we cross crossed in to each other’s worlds it felt we some had somehow became an orchestrated piece.

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A metaphor for celebrating humanity, diversity and what is it that makes us all human!

You can watch the whole event on our YouTube

Can’t wait for the next event at Stoke City Football Club with the great and wonderful Neil Baldwin where we will be exploring everything from football to circuses and famous people.