Schön! sits down with Stu­art Pear­son Wright, one of Bri­tain’s most cher­ished por­trait pain­ters.

Schon! - - Metteur En Paint - Words / Ryan Lanji Paint­ings / Stu­art Pear­son Wright @ Stu­ar­tPear­son­Wright.com

Win­ning the 2001 BP Por­trait Award aged 25, Stu­art Pear­son Wright now counts the likes of John Hurt, J.K. Rowl­ing, Keira Knight­ley and Michael Gam­bon as his sit­ters and col­lec­tors. While al­ways in­cor­po­rat­ing hu­mour and the­atri­cal­ity, Wright’s dis­tinc­tive aes­thetic and vi­sion­ary style have con­tin­u­ously gar­nered him crit­i­cal ac­claim from the art world.

Wright’s ear­li­est mem­ory of paint­ing was the pun­gent smell of lin­seed oil em­a­nat­ing from his mother’s paint boxes. It wasn’t un­til the age of 14 that he first at­tempted paint­ing with oils, and quickly re­alised how chal­leng­ing the prop­er­ties of the tra­di­tional medium were. “It was in­cred­i­bly dif­fi­cult at first,” re­calls Wright, “but I per­se­vered and the rest…was his­tory.”

An im­por­tant mo­ment in this his­tory in­volved bump­ing into John Hurt in Old Comp­ton Street in Lon­don’s Soho. Hurt was play­ing a role in Sa­muel Beck­ett’s Krapp’s Last Tape. Wright was due to see the play the fol­low­ing week (Beck­ett be­ing one of his ma­jor in­flu­ences) and hoped to catch the ac­tor out­side the stage door af­ter­wards. “I wouldn’t call it a ‘chance en­counter’ be­cause that makes it sound too easy,” he says. “I had just come from art school, I had no back-up plan and I had no wealthy par­ents or any­thing like that. I had to sur­vive as an artist or I was fucked. So I didn’t wait for the op­por­tu­nity to come to me, I ac­tively sought it out.”

Wright in­tro­duced him­self to Hurt and was in­vited to the play, where he found him­self in a dress­ing room with Hurt and Richard Har­ris. He showed Hurt a three inch square por­trait he was car­ry­ing in his pocket and it was then that he said yes to sit­ting. Lit­tle did ei­ther of them know it would change Wright’s ca­reer for­ever. It was this por­trait that gar­nered him the BP Por­trait Award and caught the at­ten­tion of the Na­tional Por­trait Gallery, where he would even­tu­ally be asked to paint the au­thor of the glob­ally suc­cess­ful Harry Pot­ter nov­els, J.K. Rowl­ing. “It was mu­tual,” Wright, ex­plains. “I was given a short­list and she was given port­fo­lios and we ul­ti­mately chose each other.”

The artist’s first meet­ings with the world-fa­mous au­thor were steeped in ner­vous­ness, but af­ter a cou­ple of sit­tings they warmed to each other: “I painted and drew her in her house. She is a very pri­vate and fam­ily-ori­en­tated woman and at the time was still in the early days of learn­ing how to deal with her fame.” He also had the rare op­por­tu­nity to sketch Rowl­ing in a café while she was writ­ing the fourth in­stall­ment of the in­ter­na­tion­ally suc­cess­ful se­ries. “It was in­ter­est­ing to be ob­serv­ing her do­ing some­thing and know­ing that what she was writ­ing was al­ready iconic. I was able to cap­ture his­tory as it was be­ing made.”

Many de­scribe Wright’s work as photo re­al­ism, with a strange twist of car­i­ca­ture, but he be­lieves it to be more per­sonal, as a stig­ma­tism in his eye is re­spon­si­ble for the sur­real length­en­ing and ex­ag­ger­a­tions of the an­gles of his sit­ters. “My ver­ti­cal vi­sion is stronger than my hor­i­zon­tal, so I have a ten­dency to fo­cus on long and thin­ner rather than round and fat,” he ex­plains.

Wright is con­tin­u­ally in­spired by per­spec­tive and the way we cre­ate and toy be­tween two-di­men­sional and three-di­men­sional ver­sions of sto­ry­telling. He be­lieves that photography is only one way of see­ing the world and that it has be­come overused in paint­ing. His lat­est body of work is cur­rently in progress and does rely on photography, but fol­lows his sub­ject over a 24 hour pe­riod, tak­ing pho­to­graphs from the time they rise un­til the time they fall asleep. His goal is to cre­ate 50 paint­ings based on th­ese.

Be­ing heav­ily in­flu­enced by cinema and theatre, Wright counts film­maker David Lynch as one of his ma­jor in­spi­ra­tions, and even cul­ture as low­brow as the tele­vi­sion pro­gramme The In­cred­i­ble Hulk, which he be­lieves taught him ev­ery­thing he knows about ex­is­ten­tial­ism. He does make it clear that no sin­gu­lar in­flu­ence ever dom­i­nates the en­tire na­ture of his piece. “It’s like a beef stew,” he says. “You start with some beef and pota­toes (which is what you al­ready had in your head), add some car­rots that may be cinema, add a bit of pep­per which might come from a piece of mu­sic you are in­spired by, and you end up with a tra­di­tional meal with an en­tirely dif­fer­ent flavour be­cause it is a com­bi­na­tion of all th­ese dif­fer­ent el­e­ments.”

Stu­art Pear­son Wright is rep­re­sented by Ri­fle­maker, Lon­don, and his work reg­u­larly on dis­play in the per­ma­nent col­lec­tion of the Na­tional Por­trait Gallery.

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