Who´s That Girl

I wanted to do a portrait of my wife. After nearly losing her in February, I felt obliged to do it. Something like what Claude Monet did for his wife Camille in La Japonaise. So I built up all these symbols that somehow define her, and I wanted to do a cheerful painting, something to ward sickness and death away. For the color scheme, I went with sky blue, cyan and archer blue to connect with the Air element; Cobalt blue and ultramarine to capture the Water; turquois and emerald to evoke the Earth bursting in the spring. I used metallic colors to simulate the silk reflections. The kimono itself is decorated with water pattern, while her obi was supposed to have a floral one. The main flower of the painting was supposed to be an orchid.

When I applied the drawing portrait was looking promising. Unfortunately, after applying the paint I couldn´t get my wife´s features right. In a few days’ time I decided to paint it all over and I applied a new drawing. Again, the same problem occurred-the drawing was working but when I applied the paint I would lose all of the features of my wife. I tried with reduction but I just couldn’t get it right. At this point I was very frustrated and physically and emotionally drained. So I gave up. One thing that I learned is that sometimes you have to let it go. If it is not working than it must not be a time.

I had this face in front of me, very strong cheek bones, similar to Cate Blanchett in the Shipping News, but stronger, too masculine. So I continued reducing till I saw resemblance to Annie Lennox´s Sweet Dreams phase, a tom boy, punky style. It was still too cold; I needed to give it some more energy, so I started working on the eyes. An inspiration for this bright, cheerful look was Julie Andrews in the Sound of Music; this Heidi meets Hair meets Impressionism in post-World War Europe that could be only described as the darkest and the most depressing hole that could be found in Tom Yorke´s lyrics for How to Disappear Completely. That amount of absurd optimism and hope cannot be measured nor find in any other movie. If you take Vantablack as supreme dark, Julie Andrews in the Sound of Music is supreme light.

At that moment I was satisfied with the portrait, there was a little bit of Cate Blanchett, Annie Lenox and Julie Andrews in it, and that must be good. So it left me wondering, Who´s that girl? Am I observing a cheerful energetic girl or a girl observing girl next to you, wondering Who´s that girl, running with you…

I did remove most of the symbols that I am saving for my next attempt of my wife´s portrait. The patterns used are more about the sea and the wind complimenting and confronting each other. The painting was based on Keisai Eisen´s Dressed for Entertaining bijin-ga from the Modern Women series, very fitting to the end.

Technique: acrylic on canvas

Size: 90 x 70 cm

Year: June 2021

Availability: In Private Collection

Bijin-ga (Paintings of the Beautiful Person)

When you have a friend like Nana Monda, it is hard not to enjoy bijin-ga. Her paintings have been constantly influencing my work. For me she is a truly living master of bijin-ga. Next in line is my friend Nataša Konjević, whose fantastic mixture of magic and portraits never fail to amaze me.

Bijin-ga is commonly translated as Portraits of beautiful women but it should be translated as Portraits of beautiful person, an individual, something that reflects inner beauty, gender is not specified at all. This leaves opening to gender fluidity in my future paintings from this series.

In my bijin-ga I will try to grasp iki – いき feeling, a beautiful sensual situation or a personal charm, where a viewer is a discreet witness to this moment.