I met with Tom van Straubenzee, who commissioned this painting, at the Chelsea Arts Club. We discussed an idea that I had had for a while of creating a painting of a couple in a landmark gallery surrounded by grand paintings. It was a commission to celebrate the wedding of Tom van Straubenzee to Lady Melissa (Missy) Percy. They had been married the year before in 2013 at St Michaels Church in Northumbria. The reception was at Alnwick Castle.
The Commissioning Process
I originally wanted to set this painting in the great Gallery of the Wallace Collection in Manchester Square, London but it was being refurbished at the time, so I chose the East Gallery which actually worked better. The blue of the walls suited the final composition.
Firstly, I took photographs of Tom and Missy in the East Gallery. We tried different poses. I never quite know what will work so take as many images as I can. Some things we couldn't do, like drink wine, smoke and lie on the floor so these photographs were taken on another day in Missy's apartment which had an overhead skylight similar to the lighting in the gallery.
I then composited elements together digitally in the studio and worked from a final digital sketch to create the painting. Ironically technology played a big role in creating a painting that celebrates tradtional craftsmenship and artistry. When a painting is finally complete I like to be involved in the framing process. I sometimes visit different framers to find a suitable moulding and finish or I liase with the commissioner and we chat about various options. Whatever is going to enhance or set the work off in its best light.
When I want inspiration, I wander around my favourite galleries. I enjoy looking at the paintings. I appreciate them and the craftsmenship I see around them, whether that's the rococo frames in which the paintings hang, or the gilded architecture that hosts the works.
I have always thought paintings are like portals into another world. My idea for this painting was a conceptual one. I wanted lots of things going on in it like the paintings of the Dutch traditiion.
I like the fact that there are lots of different types of animals in the painting.
Birds of the air symbolizing thought and poetry;animals of the land, the cat with the rat in its mouth which could be about survival in the normal world and the shark in the water on the book which could be a reference to the subconscious thoughts. Freud said that being underwater in dreams represented your subconscious. The shark could also be seen as reference to Damien Hirst's shark and perceptions of modern Art.
The paintings that hang on the walls are modified for my own ends. The central Watteau I changed to feature a pirate with parrots on his shoulders, I put myself in the opt right painting , painting the scene as an homage to Velazquez and Goya who did the same.
I am great believer in chance and chance things revealing something extra.
The chance element in this painting was the cat with a rat in its mouth.
When I was photographing Missy in her apartment I was surrised to see a cat with a rat in its mouth in the corner. I soon found out It was taxidermy and it was a present from her mother the Duchess of Northumberland. I included it in the painting.