On Monday last week I went up to London, to Tim Benson's studio in the old Chocolate Factory, Wood Green. Tim had prepared a huge canvas and after we had played around with various poses he sat me down so that I had to look up at him as he painted standing up.
The whole experience was a real eye-opener. I was aware of the energy in his portraits and particularly remembered his painting of a 92-year old lady that was in last year's BP Portrait Prize show at the National Portrait Gallery: big, bold and bravura, in fact the very antithesis of the current drift towards photo-realism. What I came to realise is that the energy is there from the start and his method of working preserves that throughout the process.
We had roughly half-hour bouts - I use that term for Tim's way of 'sparring' with the canvas as he paints!. Mozart provided us with musical accompaniment. After 3 hours we broke for lunch and then did perhaps another 2 hours after that. At lunch we talked about everything arty, including how to engage art society members and encourage them to participate fully in society activities. He is the current Vice President of the Royal Institute of Oil Painters and I am the publicity wallah for the Armed Forces Art Soc so we had plenty of ideas to kick around.
At 3.30pm we were both tired and Tim decided to call it a day. The portrait is huge and I was amazed at the amount of information Tim had been able to put into it in just 5 hours, of which maybe 3 or 4 hours were actual painting time. Working with 4-inch brushes certainly helped but I could see that his level of concentration was extraordinary and he must have walked miles between the canvas and the back wall!
I was allowed to take a photo of him and the unfinished portrait before I left. I understand from Tim that the portrait has moved on quite a bit since then.
Here he is cleaning up after the session:
I am hoping to go up to Wood Green again to have another look and perhaps next time he will allow me to buy the lunch.