Recreate Memories
Want to capture a man’s soul? Draw his portrait.

Want to capture a man’s soul? Draw his portrait.

August 5, 2013

Portrait is the best tribute; the most powerful tool for introspection, but only if the subject has the courage to confront himself.

I would like to imagine that the real reason Shepard Fairey could make such a huge killing with his mixed-media stencil of Barack Obama during the 2008 presidential election, was that Fairey could capture the full longing in the eyes of the son of a Kenyan professor. If you look closely at that portrait, you’ll notice how deep Obama’s longing for the world’s highest office was; or how one man’s dream could change US history!

To date, Obama’s “Hope” remains the most talked-about poster, spawning a whole industry of knock-offs, so much so that it also led the Associated Press freelance photographer Mannie Garcia(on whose photograph the portrait was based) to sue Fairey for compensation. It’s another story that the stakes were so high that they finally decided to settle out of court!

American artist, John Singer Sargent said it best: “Every time I paint a portrait I lose a friend!”Very few of us have the courage to confront our souls in our portraits.

There was a time, when we wore our occupations in our names—Brahmin, Kshatriya, Baniya, Shudra. We did not have to guess each other’s jobs, only because there were just a few options available and we were named after what we did for a living. Today, there are unlimited avenues, but we still can’t figure out what we are most passionate about 🙂

My friend Vipul Vaishyak (“Pundit” to friends) had been doing brisk business in the medium for the past few years. He nudged me and I started dwelling on fond memories of Champak and Kailash Vadgama, my Gurus cum friends from whom I learnt the final touch of portrait- making. Vipul and I finally launched our site (www.oilpixel.com) a few days ago.

Champak and Kailash were (and would perhaps still be) passionate purists. They might be horrified to discover how I use my Intuos tablet to tease out the uniqueness of my subjects. I am sure they may not have seen anything like this in our small town Jamjodhpur. If I were to tell them that digital technology makes it possible to produce, frame and deliver a 99.9% replica of a subject in a few days (work that takes them a few weeks), they may not believe me, until I actually demonstrate it to them. But thanks to digital innovation all that and more are now possible.

Sometime ago, I drew the portrait of a friend’s father from his grainy passport-size photo, the only picture of the patriarch that the family had. My friend was so moved, he said, “I’d brought his father to life again!”

The biggest challenge I face as a portrait artist is to capture the nuances of a child’s face – their features are so rounded, soft and let’s say it – unadulterated! For the same reason, women are more difficult to draw then men. I can easily look for a moustache, beard, a goatee, a facial twitch in a man’s demeanour, but to capture the mystique, the very essence of womanhood in a female subject calls for greater patience and insight.Women, I’ve discovered, also don’t give themselves away so easily.

Even while remaining busy with the daily operations of Litmus (www.litmusbranding.com), I am somehow able to find time to do what I am more passionate about because portrait-making defines the kind of man I want to be – true to myself; true to my subjects and of course, true to my craft.

I happen to agree with Oscar Wilde that a portrait does not captures the picture of the artist – it captures the picture of the subject! That’s how there is something of me that I am able to lend to all my oils, although like Dali, I can’t go as far as saying, “I don’t paint a portrait to look like the subject, rather the person grow to look like his portrait” – Ha! Ha! Ha!

Last week, we installed our Wacom tablet. It had been lying idle, gathering dust in Litmus office, like a forgotten dream, until Vipul’s eyes happened to fall on it! He insisted we install it, immediately and we did.

There is no escaping my fate now.

Until now, I was only dating my first love. With Wacom Intuos Tablet, I am now wedded to it!

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