NATIONAL PORTRAIT GALLERY, LONDON 4.1.11
When I heard on the 1pm news bulletin yesterday that the actor Pete Postlethwaite had died, I went straight to the National Portrait Gallery to look at this painting. Unfortunately it wasn’t in its usual place, having been removed because extra wall space was needed for a temporary exhibition. But I had this image on my files.
|© The Artist|
The painting is in a black frame, and all we can see is an empty black background which could suggest a curtain, a padded black leather chair with its back towards us – and Pete. He’s wearing a black sweater with scraps of white shirt at his neck and elbows and looks not at us but out of the picture to his left. His lower half is obscured and, relaxed, his arms are crossed over the back of a chair. There appears to be a gold signet ring on the fourth finger of his right hand and a wedding ring on his left. There is no distraction: you are alone with this outstanding actor.It’s a pose which quirkily reminds me of a famous picture of Christine Keeler astride a chair which I last saw at the Major Gallery in 2008.
It’s a beautiful, thoughtful, spare painting, relying on flesh tints against such a sombre background to make him alive and fully present with us. I first saw him in Bristol in the 1970s where he’d been at the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School, whose alumni include Miranda Richardson, Jeremy Irons, Daniel Day Lewis and Patrick Stewart. Twas heaven to be alive in Bristol and its theatre-going that decade. Seeing Postlethwaite romp in Guys and Dolls and Day Lewis tearing the stage apart in Class Enemy is not the sort of experience you easily forget. Today tributes are pouring in from around the world from people who knew him or his work. As a political activist as well as an actor. For example he marched against the Iraq war.was a supporter of the Make Poverty History campaign and was said to have influenced government policy on regeneration of mining areas (the film Brassed Off) and global warming (The Age of Stupid).
The Guardian has a fuller picture of this remarkable man's determination, confidence, commitment and genius.