“I love painting the human form because there are so many fascinating and unique people on this planet! Human connection is the most important thing and painting portraits is all about trying to depict what it feels like to be around someone. I’m also obsessed with actual paint, I have a limitless ability to be a geek about it. I also listen to music very loud when I’m painting. My neighbours in my last building all moved out, which I’m sure is unrelated.
“Dancers are particularly interesting for me to paint because firstly I have so much respect for them, in a sort of girly fan way, but also how can you not?! They have spent their whole lives dedicated to building their body as an instrument of expression which is unbelievably beautiful. Capturing movement as a painter is pretty impossible so the process has an ephemeral quality to it - you can never quite do the movement justice in two dimensional form. I find that dancers, as they are so in tune with how their body looks and in expressing themselves, they are able to make creative collaboration particularly rewarding.
“Dancing when I was younger definitely helps me with painting the human form today. I now feel that they are very connected - I did ballet very seriously until I got a knee injury as a teenager - but I see now how observing the body, understanding line and choreography in dance has a direct connection to painting the observed body and considering composition in painting.
“I prefer my paintings of dancers to try and depict something of their character - rather than a role they are performing - so I ask them to come in their rehearsal clothing, and we choose a pose that feels distinctively them, obviously their identity as a dancer but their off stage too.
Francesca Hayward – 2018 BP Portrait Award Exhibition at National Portrait Gallery
“Countless artists have been inspired by dancers - but to my knowledge nothing has been done in this way before.”
“Working with the choreographer Valentino Zucchetti at the Royal Ballet was probably the most fun I’ve ever had! I’d love to do more of it - it took a lot of prep work (I was doing these weird drawing workouts on my wall every morning and memorising parts of it). The actual performance was so nerve wracking (as I’m not a performer) that I was shaking quite a lot! But it felt like I was finally able to pull together these two threads in my life, the painting and the dancing, and express it and connect them which was something I had dreamt of doing all my life! I felt incredibly lucky - that Valentino was willing to collaborate and create something specially for this kind of blew my mind - I think many choreographers don’t like to go outside their comfort zone but he is very open and creative. I just couldn’t believe I was allowed to draw these beautiful dancers like that - it filled me with so much happiness I still can’t quite believe it. The way that the drawn lines sort of joined in with the choreography and became part of dance was what we were hoping would happen. I think that countless artists have been inspired by dancers, but to my knowledge nothing has been done in the same way... Picasso painted on glass a lot but those were from his imagination - that’s where I got the idea as I couldn’t work out a way to draw that big as an easel format would mean turning my back or head every two seconds! This meant the line could run fluidly and be an observed line - included in the dance and live music playing.
“I’ve lived in London since I was 7, and before that Israel. I’m always conflicted about living in london - as so many people I love are there - but I get more inspiration from other places which is why I travel a lot. Presently I am on an island off Kenya called Lamu, hiding from the lockdown in London, and painting a series of big, much looser oil portraits of people working in either conservation or local charities. I’ll be exhibiting it next weekend and donating half of any sale to each individual organisation depicted. I am so extremely excited to be able to actually hang a real show after a year of so many cancellations - with actual real live people able to visit! It’s sort of the point of the show to put all these amazing people together in one room and create a community - I hope that’s a good thing too."
For more information on Vanessa's latest projects, visit www.vanessagarwood.com/
Choreography / painting collaboration with the Royal Ballet, performed at the Royal Opera House
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