In 2015, my sister was diagnosed with a slow-growing lymphoma. Early in 2016 she fell ill, and subsequently it was found her lymphoma had become an aggressive form.
She began a course of chemotherapy in the late spring. She lives in Suffolk so I cannot visit as much as I would like, but I message frequently and a portrait was discussed.
‘LER – 3 Treatments’ was started half way through her chemo. Arriving to see her, I was struck by her visual appearance: how pale she was, her skin ashen and hair white, fading into her surroundings.
Her bright red dress and sandals, in contrast, were overwhelming.
She has always dressed expressively. I wanted to use this within the portrait, trying to portray the physical turmoil of her biological illness, the effect of the chemo: pain, sickness and lack of energy.
Painting the organic pattern of the dress covering most of her body became a contemplative process: brush mark making, influenced by Van Gogh.
Thankfully Lesley’s treatment went well. She is now back teaching Art and Photography. Her hair has grown back full and curly. She’s still recovering, and I think another portrait is due.
Gabrielle’s Story Behind the Portrait forms one in a series promoting the RBSA Portrait Prize exhibition, which runs until August 19.
Gabrielle completed an Art Foundation and BA Hons Degree in Fine Art in 1985, specialising in Ceramic Sculpture & Wax Painting. Throughout the late 80s and 90s she worked as a freelance artist, producing large commissions for commercial companies. She is a mum of three children and has recently been focusing on oil painting, using portraiture as a form of storytelling, and printmaking and drawing.