JohnAkomfrah-The Portrait Event

14th September 2016

I’m in my studio reflecting on the two great portrait events I’ve done so far in the Portraits Untold collection and there’s another one just round the corner.


Portraits Untold sittings started with John Akomfrah who sat in the Round Gallery at Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery. The scene was set as John sat in a majestic leather chair and I stood with my paints, brushes in hand, canvas on easel. We looked at each other and looked around the gallery and laughed about how we couldn’t have chosen a more ostentatious venue to create this amazing collaboration.

We connected straight away and this connection is what we spent the next five hours exploring, as unlike my other sitters, we hadn’t met previously. As I painted we conversed about all things that connected us as human beings, as artists and makers and as people with distinct cultural identities. This in turn was projected into the painting in a way that is multi layered. What we spoke about and what we were asked by the audience influenced the physical and emotional dynamics and compositions within the portrait as it developed throughout the day.

As this was the first Portraits Untold event I very much wanted to explore the notion of diversity and humanity in the room and to get these elements directly into the portrait. The audience contributions were a major player in this. There were some fantastic drawings coming in from both the actual audience in the room and from the virtual audience watching the live stream. Projecting and drawing their creative responses was how was I going to interpret this. Did my projected live iPad drawing of the audience on to the canvas truly give me a sense of fusing traditional drawing with digital interpretations? It soon began to. I also found myself thinking about how the audience interpretations within the portrait would begin to create a portrait that was far beyond just a singular image of the sitter John Akomfrah. It was going to be a portrait of a sea of Johns, a united portrait of people who came, watched, talked, interpreted, listened and engaged on many levels.


John was of course intrigued by this process and we did spend some time delving into each other’s creative processes and finding common ground. Fascinating!
My favourite moment from the John Akomfrah sitting was when we connected discussing how we were looking for our cultural identities as diverse artists within art collections when we were growing up and this proved to be one of the things that has driven us both to be who we are as artists today.

Don’t forget you can watch the event on our YouTube and catchup on what was truly a great event.