Oil Portraits by Catherine Stock


In March 2005, I was interviewed by Talia Sanhewe for the South African radio program, Otherwise. Her first question completely threw me off base: "In this day of multimedia technology when digital and video cameras are common place, why would anyone want an oil or watercolour portrait?" I regretted not being able to address the question properly at the time, because it was a good one. A good photograph is one thing, a good painting is another. Although I work very quickly, I spend a good few hours interacting with my subject. During that time, the initial self consciousness of the sitter relaxes. I recede to the background as the child becomes reabsorbed in his or her world and play, whether it be listening to a story, playing with toys or watching a video. With older subjects too, as time goes by, the face relaxes, the expression softens. An interaction develops between the artist and the sitter- a dialogue on a subliminal level. That is the moment when I start painting because the reflective expression of the subject is timeless: the painting will later imbue a room with the subject's quiet presence. A photograph is not often required to have the staying power of a painting.

Essentially, a good portrait is more than a good likeness of the sitter; a good portait embodies something of the soul of the sitter.


In 2004, I was commissioned by the University of Cape Town to paint the President of the University Council, Revel Fox (above left). The Registrar gave us complete freedom in this endeavor, and as Revel and I were close friends, we ended up painting a fairly loose and informal painting for the University.

On the right, above, is a portrait of the little girl from the top painting, with her two young children.

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