Saturday, 12 January 2013


oil on canvas, 1995  37 3/4 in. x 16 in.   © National Portrait Gallery, London

'Oh, you don't need to worry, I don't work that way'.
Sir Anthony Dowell, C.B.E.,dancer and former Artistic Director of the Royal Ballet, describes in a lively Independent article, referenced below, his fears about how much time it would take when he learned that Philip Harris wanted to paint his portrait. The artist assured him that he only needed a couple of hours to photograph him. 'I didn't even have to go to his studio; he came to my house. He wanted to photograph me in very strong light, so when he came over we went into the garden.I was photographed in blinding sunlight, and I remember thinking that the portrait would be very much warts and all'.

Sir Anthony agreed to allow Philip Harris to 'choreograph' this work. 'Because I had put myself in the hands of choreographers for years I didn't mind...It's not a known position, but it gives the sense of dance.  He also chose my outfit. He wanted ...this very stark black-and-white look. The light reflects on me and the shirt and that catches the eye'.
Two Figures Lying in a Shallow Stream, 1992
Oil on Linen, 72" x 48"
When I read that the portrait was commissioned as part of Philip Harris's reward for winning First Prize at the  BP Portrait Award in 1993,  I checked his winning entry and was delighted to see Two Figures...again. As Susan Hiller has said, 'There are certain images which once seen are part of one's imagination forever'..As you stand in front of this portrait, you are looking at a stream so real you are tempted to dip your hands into it. Beneath are the artist and his partner Louise, two bodies on a carpet of natural materials and artefacts arranged with the care and precision of a still life. Is it a trompe l'oeil? Is it surrealism? Is it radical realism, ostensibly the world but not as we know it? There's a degree of discomfort about a painting which contains within itself both the ultra real world and a dream-like other worldly character. I find it unforgettable. › Collection

Norbert Lynton  Painting The Century 101 portrait masterpices 1900-2000, introductoin. Published by NPG (2000)
Sandy Nairne  - 500 Portraits: BP Portrait Award  Published by NPG (2011)

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