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Is life ever still?

Creating a portrait of my younger brother, and contemplating on the inadequacy of the paintbrush.



This is my brother. It's also my first attempt at a portrait in oils. It's also an attempt to fulfil the requirements for a still-life painting.


Still life? But isn't it a portrait?


Well, technically, yes. It's a picture of my brother. But my brother is alive, and in the painting, he's standing still. (Something that doesn't happen too often, him being the vivacious fellow that he is.) So it's a still life, right?


In my efforts to bend the rules a little and create a still life that was actually something else, I was inspired by Australian artist Margaret Olley. Olley is famous for her mastery of the still life. But her paintings are chaotic, haphazard, and colourful. Often they feature whole rooms instead of just objects arranged on a table. Sometimes they even include figures in the background. They are hardly ever just flowers on a table.


I wanted my composition to be exciting and interesting, convey light and colour, and capture a part of my brother’s personality.

Margaret Olley was all about creating scenes that were as messy as real life. Full of colour, full of texture, and glowing with warmth and movement. I wanted my composition to be exciting and interesting, convey light and colour, and capture a part of my brother’s personality.


A Still Life with a Difference


As I tried to somehow capture a bit of my brother's personality and fasten it with paint onto a canvas, I was reminded of the inadequacy of paintings. Because fundamentally, painting is a still medium. We try to capture movement in a static image. We try to condense a story into one single scene, a personality into a picture frame.


I crammed this painting full of things that remind me of my brother. Soccer boots, a volume of Shakespeare, his beloved telescope and compass. I think in the fleeting look on his face, you can see a glimpse of his personality. Intelligent, introspective, and bursting with mischief. I've tried to freeze a moment in time, hold him for just a second.


But there's so much you can't know, and already he's walking out of the page. And perhaps that's the way it should be. After all, is life ever still?



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