It’s a grey day in March but just as the sky breaks to blue a young man approaches me at the temporary bus-stop and asks the time. For some odd reason I am wary of him, even though he doesn’t have the look of anyone unsavoury about him – just loose, flowing hair and paint-splattered jeans and trainers.
I am to find out later, sitting on the bus with him, that he is Louis Ruegg, an art student studying painting on the Totnes Art & Design Foundation Course. He asks if he can paint me.
As Louis – what looks like to me from both the back of the canvas and the angle I’m sitting at – daubs serious amounts of paint randomly about, I resist from asking him if he has ‘a style’. He is paining my portrait, after all, and I’m wondering whether I’ll end-up looking like a photographic image of myself; a take on Michaelangelo (one of his favourite artists – though my physique is hardly Renaissance-esque!]) or an angular cube with one eye closer to my mouth than it would normally be!
I say nothing. We talk politics – literally.
At the end of the session I am taken aback at how much of myself I can see in a mere two hours of Louis’ time – I also do appear to have started off a tad geometric looking! Louis explains this is his ‘preliminary blocking’
Louis tells me he will be adding more detail to the portrait and re-iterates from the first sitting, that, though he’s asked me to keep my eyes on a cross he’s marked on the back frame of his canvas, I do not have to stare at it intently and am free to be relatively animated while he paints.
We talk about which artists we appreciate, both agreeing that you don’t have to like everything an artist does or limit your taste. I express my love for a wide cross-section of styles (including Michaelangelo) and in particular the Pre-Raphaelites, Miro, Klee, Mondrian and Hockney. Louis asks me if I were in a room full of famous pieces of work and could only buy one, which would I go for. I ask him the same question and we both agree that we would choose what we loved the most and could live with everyday – and not one simply because it was the ‘most’ famous, or by a particular artist or had the highest asking price.
I take pictures of the next stage of my portrait and am very impressed with my hair and brooch and, even though I have no eyes as yet, can see myself reflected in their absence.
Third and Fourth Sittings.
Louis decides that even though the black jumper I am wearing is speckled with blue, white and green flecks he feels it should be black overall with hints of purple throughout. An obvious artistic decision that I am not qualified to question.
We discuss the complexities of the colour ‘black’ and how some sources maintain that as it is merely the absorption of all colours, it isn’t truly a colour in its own right; and how also there are many shades of black!
Conversation also turns to the importance of Art – and we both take it to mean the Arts (ie, art, writing, music, dance and so on) in general. I rant about how the curriculum in UK schools neglects creative, expressive subjects [especially Drama] and blame all governments for that one! Louis agrees and talks about how fortunate he feels to be on his present course with the opportunity to follow his dream to become a painter. He has been accepted by Wimbledon College of Art (part of The University of the Arts, London])and begins his training later this year.
My portrait jumps out at me – sporting one eye, fabulous hair and I can really feel the texture of my sweater and the brooch!
Fifth and final Sitting.
Louis has been working on my portrait in my absence and, in fact, both he and his tutor feel it needs very little else done to it. I now have both eyes, and tell Louis how much I like my right ear with the stud earring, my hair and my expression. I only sit for an hour, perhaps even less, as Louis thinks, considers and, in truth, does very little to his work.
Talk is of his future hopes and dreams – and just a wee bit of politics today!
His, and my, work is done! I feel I have learnt a lot about Louis who, until a few weeks ago, was a complete stranger to me. Via him painting and me sitting we have put the World to right, discussed serious issues and had a good laugh. I hope he has gotten something from meeting me also.
Ziggy Abd El Malak
Devon, Spring 2018.
Ziggy is a retired Theatre lecturer who is presently spending his time modelling, studying for a GCSE Maths and performing his poetry in Torquay. His new volume of poems Laid Bare And Split-Up! (available on Amazon]) deals with the break-up of a recent long-term relationship – but there is much humour in the book too. He will be headlining at Stanza Extravaganza, The Artizan Gallery, Lucius Street, Torquay on Monday 25th June 2018.