Identity is not fixed. Here I explored the evolution of my own identity over the years, asking “Am I still the person I see in these previous incarnations of myself?”
Identify is often in the news these days, identify politics, gender identity, the ongoing discussion of racial or religious identity, and whether such things should even be noted or discussed.
Portraits, of course, have always been about identity. Who is this person? Who is revealed behind those eyes? Which begs the question – how much of their true self does the sitter reveal? And can an artist hope to discover a truth behind the person the subject appears to be? We all adopt different personas for different situations. We have public and private faces. The person our families know and love may not be the person we are in business. Actors make a profession of convincing us they are other people, but we are all performers to some degree.
Just recently I had the chance to work with a lovely Japanese lady who has been a Canadian for almost as l long as I – an Englishman – have. She kindly modelled for a workshop I gave and I painted a loose demo oil sketch of here there, which set me thinking about a way of portraying here between the two cultures, in the act of becoming Canadian whilst also being Japanese.
It’s something I, as an immigrant, have thought about a lot – I’m proudly Canadian, but undeniably and thoroughly English and, as I get older, my roots call more insistently. I’ve been making paintings that play with this identity question for quite a while. I’d like to talk about a few of these pictures on the eve of an exhibition at the Union Club of British Columbia that will include 4 of them.
Travis is the kind of guy – you might think – who would be scary to get on the wrong side of. Powerfully built, with a shaved head, you might cast him as a bouncer in a gritty TV drama, but appearances are not the whole story; that smile gives it away, far from fearsome, Travis is a gentle giant.
Yes, he has enormous arms and shoulders from earlier as a fisherman, but he’s a good natured, kind soul who know works as a special effects artist in the video game industry. He’s one of Sharon’s oldest friends and I painted this study from life when he came up from Atlanta to visit recently, using a very simple palette of predominantly earth colours.
Duncan Regehr is an actor with a long stream of TV and movie roles to his credit but he’s also a painter, sculptor and poet. His own paintings have often featured multiple representations of the same person, so I chose to incorporate this idea into my exploration of his multiple identities.
Nick is my daughter’s partner and, like many young people, his identity is a work in progress. His own heritage is mixed and he has added another element to that mix by being adopted into one of our First Nations, where he shares proudly in the ritual of the Sundance with his adoptive father.
With his dreadlock and Rastafarian tattoos, the most obvious visual identity he presents is West Indian – his mother’s roots, and yet spiritually he is closer to the people we once called Indians and now recognized as our First Peoples.
Hanif Kureishi, CBE, is one of England’s finest contemporary writers, both as a novelist and for theatre and film. You may remember his Oscar nominated movie “My Beautiful Launderette” – and if you haven’t read his novel “The Buddha of Suburbia” you should. Most of Hanif’s work has dealt with questions of identity as his own experience of growing up as the son of an Indian father and English mother in a time of heightened racial tension gave him a unique view of what identity might mean. Here, I’ve captured him at his writing desk gazing out over the streets of Sheppard’s Bush in the London he loves.