portrait of my late father

This is by the portrait artist Eugene Fisk, who painted my father during several visits he made to the artist’s studio. Because in the last post I showed a portrait ‘mask’ I’d made of Trevor as a ‘Green Man’, I thought this a good moment to share the painting of him.

For many years Eugene and his partner Elizabeth Organ ran the Kilvert Gallery in Clyro, where Eugene’s eyrie was up under the roof rafters. The Kilvert, once the home of the Reverend Francis Kilvert of ‘Kilvert’s Diaries’ fame, was the first gallery to show my paintings, Lizzie having been supportive from the moment she set eyes on my portfolio. It was there I had my first show, sharing the space with the marvellous Charles Shearer.

Trevor was a regular at the house and gallery, a colourful presence at exhibition openings. Unbeknown to us he was regularly sitting for Eugene, going up to the studio to chat whenever Peter and I were delivering paintings. The portrait was made ‘informally’ (not commissioned) Trevor having either kept the sittings a secret, or not thinking them significant. Therefore when the painting was finished and the artist showed it to us, Peter and I were genuinely surprised. Trevor’s birthday was the day before my own, and so at midnight on June 10th, as we jointly celebrated at our house in Cardiff, Peter produced the painting as an unexpected gift to father and son, explaining that we could split it between us, six months of any year at Trevor’s, and then six months at our house. In the event Trevor made off with the painting and it stayed with him until his death. Now it hangs here at Ty Isaf in the ‘Winter’ sitting-room.

My father was as pleased as punch with the painting, and gave it pride of place in his home. He was a man of gentle vanity, and you can see something of his confident ease in the painting. Relaxed, legs akimbo, hands loosely clasped. (Trevor had beautiful, strong hands.)  Eugene has marvellously captured his sitter’s sunny disposition. Trevor sits there, entirely happy to be looked at, his whiskers magnificently curled and his bow-tie neatly tied. But he was a busy man, and it makes me laugh that Eugene painted him with his coat over one arm, ready for the ‘off’ when pressing engagements called him elsewhere. It warms me too because I know that while this was being painted, Peter and I would have been downstairs with Lizzie, doing business or admiring work in the gallery, all of us quite unaware that Trevor’s likeness was being captured high up in the attic.

Every time he was leaving the house, Trevor would glance up at the painting and address it cheerfully “What are you looking at you old bugger?”, and I’ve caught the habit because now I address it in exactly the same way.

One of the mysteries I find most fascinating about the painting is that great inexplicable swipe of red paint across him, like a flaming rainbow over his heart. That brush-stroke so perfectly sums up the man, a comet-tail flaming from his breast.

You can read more about Trevor HERE and HERE.

14 thoughts on “portrait of my late father

  1. what a moving post– the painting is really wonderful! the colors are so vivid and he seems very alive. i love the “old bugger” bit, too, made me laugh 🙂

    • Zoe, in my head I hear his voice, his chuckle, his infectious laugh. He gave himself up to feelings, delight or sadness, so completely. There wasn’t a deceitful bone in his body. I think that shows in the painting. Clever Eugene!

  2. Your father has such a benevolent, inwardly happy countenance in this painting. And the colors, too – so joyful! I’ve enjoyed reading your recollections about him and about this fine painting; it must be good to be able to live with it (and him) now, and as you say, a painting brings with it so many other associations too.

    • I think that Eugene captured a real quality of Trevor, something that many portrait painters miss when they get too focussed on likeness to the exclusion of character. Yes, it is good to live with the painting, and I’m pleased too that it’s in a house that Trevor would have absolutely loved

      Glad that you’ve enjoyed reading about him Beth.

  3. Such a terrific portrait and I enjoyed reading the account of how it came to be. It feels full of life and I can quite understand how one might have a word with Trevor when passing by!

    • Hello Bev. Good to hear from you again. I hope you’ve been travelling safely and that you and the dogs are in fine fettle. Yes, the painting vividly captures Trevor. I’d lay bets that he snoozed from time to time as he sat, awakening ten minutes later to claim “Not sleeping Euge, just resting my eyes!”

  4. I’ve admired this painting since seeing it the first time. To me, it has captured the spirit of the man, an makes me “know him” a bit better despite never having met him. I’m glad to have an account of how it came to be, and the fact that Eugene painted it… especially after attending Lizzie’s funeral service with you two summers ago. I regret that the circumstances of the family funeral didn’t permit me to see the Kilvert Gallery space on that occasion, but perhaps another time. How is Eugene getting on these days? Is he painting?

    • Anita, I’d quite forgotten that you came with us to Clyro. It must have been a strange experience for you, attending a funeral of someone you’d never met. I fear that the gallery is no longer there for you to visit. Eugene sold up and moved into Hay-on-Wye. I believe the house is a private residence again. The gallery probably couldn’t have survived without the engine of Lizzie driving it. The character of the place was so much her creation, the gallery spaces on the ground floor and in the basement essentially being the couple’s reception rooms thrown open to the public, but with the addition of paintings and items for sale. When visitors left at the end of the day, Lizzie and Euge moved back in. There were beautiful antiques, some of which were for sale. Paintings, lovely furniture and objets d’art created an environment that was most seductive. People walked around the spaces and wanted to go home to create something similar. There were cats, various dogs and a huge ornate Victorian bird-cage of canaries chirruping brightly. The favoured were invited into the tiny kitchen for coffee, cake and gossip. It was a delightful experience. I miss the place, and I miss Lizzie presiding over it, guarding Eugene’s privacy so that he could get on with his painting upstairs. They were the most delightful pair.

      • Peter and I walked to the front of the house, and peered into the side garden, and he told me how much you and he had enjoyed your times spent there. So, Eugene is doing well then? AM

        • Haven’t spoken to him, but we had a card with a change of address and I hear through the grapevine that he’s exhibiting at a gallery we know in Hay-on-Wye.

          We’d often go for very long periods without seeing or hearing from Eugene and Lizzie, save a card at Christmas. But then I’d phone them and the old order would be restored, we’d meet up at theirs for tea and have a lovely time catching up. It was a friendship that survived the odd lengthy gap and even some fallings-out. (Lizzie was very hostile for a while after I started showing with Martin, though her natural warmth overcame her crossness with me and we made up.) Latterly Peter and I were so far away geographically that we called at Clyro with less frequency than when we’d been in Cardiff. I spoke to Lizzie about six months before she died, at which point she announced that she was going to organise with Euge to come up to see Ty Isaf for a day. Time sped by and the trip didn’t happen, and the next thing we heard was that she had died.

          Oh dear me. The world is so much less colourful for her absence.

          I must call some mutual friends and find out whether Euge has taken up e-mail at all. Such a good tool for keeping in touch when there are distances involved.

          • I’m glad to hear Eugene is still painting, lest he simply shrivel.
            I guess some friendships actually fare better with the lengthy gaps, so long as everyone recognizes them as inevitable and harmless. I have some friends like this, too… though Facebook may have brought them back into my life with a little bit too much frequency. 😉

            Too bad Lizzie never saw Ty Isaf because I think she would have loved it. Especially now that you’ve made it so much your own. People do color our worlds, don’t they? And, as Marcel Duchamp said, “I never could stand the seriousness of life, but when the serious is tinted with humor it makes a nicer color.” [Quoted from the “Bride and the Bachelors” by Calvin Tompkins, 1968] So, people and their humor are key to me.

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