19 Mar 2023   |  Journal

Reference-less portrait study (no photos/mirror/sitter/whatever)

Oil painting_James Green Artist

Firstly, what exactly is a reference-less portrait study?

Reference-less portraits are a form of ‘portrait’ that relies entirely on an artist using their own imagination & memory alone to create a visual output that reflects, in their own way, a portrait resembling a person or character – where the artist doesn’t use any form of visual reference-point to create/replicate the image. From my point of view, reference-less portraits are a particularly intriguing and challenging visual expression, as they require an artist to create a relatively convincing likeness of an imagined subject – rather than something physical that’s sat in from of them (a sitter or photo – or object). Having been a painter for as long as I can remember, and having practiced both realism & expressionism for over a decade each, it is my personal conclusion that reference-less portraits require the most creativity. And, again from where I’m standing… the approach is more artistically fulfilling / progressive – and for me personally – the process is much more fun!

What has led me in this direction?

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been somewhat obsessed with painting/drawing faces. Throughout the past decade or so I’ve naturally become more gestural/expressive in the way I develop them. When I first started out way back, my ambition was to create ‘perfect’ (or as close to as possible) images that precisely resembled a sitter or subject. But on reflection, I therefore question as to whether I was then creating true ‘art’. It took a lot of life experience (rather than art school) to begin to understand what art really was/is and that over time naturally transformed my ambition from precise imagery to a desire to create visual work that only I can make (unique to myself and my life)… that I could never make again.

Creating in the way that I do today, to me, ensures that each piece of work is uniquely one-off to that specific moment – and that moment alone. I’m only content with calling a painting (or drawing/however the ‘thing’ manifests in physicality) an ‘original’ if I believe I’ve achieved this to a significant degree. I feel that this installs something in their presence that allows them to feel alive, forever. I find it interesting that if you really observe my portrait work (most of them at least), the eyes don’t really look like eyes, the nose doesn’t really resemble a nose… etc. But still, the human mind acknowledges it as a person. Perhaps someone you might know, or have known. I guess you can take this notion a step further with the simplicity of the ‘smiley face’ symbol ‘:)’. How we, on a global level, naturally register this as a face is pretty fascinating to me. I guess I’m instinctively working towards trying to create something almost as simple as that; whilst capturing the essence of the everyday person (plural). Formlessness is a powerful thing/word if I really think about it. Although I’m talking about simplicity here, everything I have/am goes into creating these… it’s a battle far from simple. But the result (and process) makes me feel. I also hope that it makes the viewer feel something. I can’t really imagine ever wanting to spend my days doing anything else. I consider myself one of the lucky ones!

Oil painting_James Green Artist