Conversations with the Past

Portrait of my Grandmother by Helen Davison

‘Portrait of my Grandmother’. Oil on gessoed card, 10″ x 8″

This is a very personal little portrait for me. It is based on a black and white photograph from the 1930s that I have of my Grandmother. We were very close, indeed my grandparents lived with us for most of my childhood. Of course, I never knew her as a young woman, although the characteristics that I remember in her face as an elderly woman are still visible to me in the photograph, where I guess she must have been around 24 or 25 years of age.

I wanted to paint a version of the portrait because in so many ways I feel paint breathes more life into a 2D image that the medium of photography. I can’t say that I achieved what I set out to with this version, but nonetheless, it speaks to me in a very meaningful way. I had wanted the paint surface to be a little richer and thicker, but I struggled here as my panel seemed a bit too slippery for some reason, and the paint wouldn’t quite adhere to the surface. I also wanted to colourise it a little more to give a better sense of realistic flesh colouring. I came to understand that this is quite difficult when your reference is black and white.

I doubt this is the last time that I will do this little exercise. Until I create the portrait that is in my mind, the one I will always keep, I will periodically return to it. The meditation on the process and thinking about the person in the painting always feels like time spent with them. It has been 19 years since my Grandmother passed away, so I find this time quite special in its way.