Recently I’ve been painting portraits in oil. Oil paint allows the artist to render surfaces and especially skin tones to a high degree of finish. Herein lies the temptation which is to overwork the paint. Knowing when to stop, and leaving something out or treating the periphery more sketchily so as to draw the viewer’s eye to the important features is the task. In portrait painting the important thing is the eyes.
In Sr John’s eyes I’ve used at least four colours.
Eye contact in life is what draws us into life, primarily through the mothers gaze towards the baby. Eye contact continues to be important and ultimately the gaze of God is what we all seek. Hence the Holy Face devotion and the numerous instances in Scripture when we ask God not to turn his face from us. We also turn to our heavenly mother and the Hail Holy Queen prayer asking her to “Turn then those gracious eyes of mercy towards us”. This is what gives icons their force. The eyes.
Prior Stephen Horton o.s.b. Prinknash Abbey