One of the great privileges as an art historian, gallerist and collector is the opportunity to meet the artists that one most admires. Sometimes this relationship remains cursory, or stays strictly professional, but sometimes it becomes something more. Over the last thirty years friendships with some of the greatest British painters have meant an incredible amount to me, and in more recent years, as I’ve come to know some of the greatest photographers in the country, new friendships have also developed. In 1992 I curated my first exhibition, a travelling show for the British Council devoted to British figurative art of the twentieth century. One of the artists that I selected was Dennis Creffield, not only a significant painter but also one of the greatest British draughtsmen of the twentieth century. Our relationship has developed since then and most recently led to an unexpected development.
Over the last few weeks I have visited Dennis at his home and studio in Brighton to sit for my portrait. The conditions were simple: I would come at the agreed times and not ask to see the resulting drawings. I would see only them when Dennis was ready to show me them. In Creffield’s incredible pictures made from the life-mask of William Blake, the subject changes before our eyes: young then old, animate then subdued, dashing then downcast, strong then weak. I hoped for something similarly multi-faceted in the drawings that Dennis made of me. I was not disappointed.
The qualities that Dennis found in drawing me were also diverse. I took a pose looking out of the window along the coastal road, my head slightly down, my eyes looking up, and one hand resting on my chin. The upturned gaze and my sloping shoulders led Dennis to draw out a feminine side in some drawings, whilst in another the pose reminded me of a gladiator’s helmet. In one drawing there is firmness, solidity, steadfastness. In another there is vulnerability and everything is breaking down.
It was a very special experience and I am looking forward to developing my relationship to these drawings.