Portrait of Arthur Atherley
Holburne Commission – in progress
Along with six other artists, I am working with The Holburne Museum in Bath and a group of sixth form students to explore the recent acquisition of an oil sketch by Thomas Lawrence of Arthur Atherley. The full length portrait can be found in the LA County Museum of Art.
The intention is to use the painting as a means to explore what it is to be young and the impact of leaving school, as this painting was made by a 21 year old artist depicting a young man leaving Eton in the late 18th Century.
I will be working with a girls’ school and I’d like to explore the following in relation to this important moment in their lives:
- appearance and disposition
- expectations and considerations when leaving school
- what you take with you from school / what you leave behind
- whether being a girl makes a difference in the world today
One of the aspects of Lawrence's portrait that struck me was that Atherly has been dressed to make a statement. In the full length portrait he is in a red jacket- not school uniform as in the sketch. It is possible this was the costume used for a pageant connected with Eton, whatever the reason the result is striking.The colour is electric and we are immediately drawn into the portrait. Appearance is everything- Lawrence himself was very keen to present an image while painting, and his long curls and entertaining manner were noted to be almost a performance by those who sat for him. In response I have decided to make a dress informed by the thoughts of the school leavers, but with contemporary elements.
The fabric will be silk as the dress should represent the importance of the occasion; it is a school leaver's dress, but this is also a nod to the fact that Lawrence was very particular about the quality of the materials he used. The colour palette will refer to both the oil sketch and Lawrence’s full length portrait. The ground will be reminiscent of the colour of the canvas of Lawrence’s sketch, and the embroidery/surface decoration in both content and design will be in response to the workshop (below) drawing from colour palette of Lawrence's work.
There will, however, be a modern contemporary aspect to the garment as it is a 2017 response. I want to incorporate the 'loading' symbol - ubiquitous on our screens, but as a symbol of the start of a new life for those who participated in its making- and have printed some silk fabric for this purpose.
Having discussed the portrait in terms of content and technique, the students will be give series of questions for them to answer anonymously on a colour scale (drawn from the painting) considering their thoughtsabout leaving school. e.g:
My appearance represents how I feel
I will live up to others' expections of me
They will then be asked to consider the following questions (both literally and metaphorically):
What will you take with you?
What will you leave behind?
Part of the artwork is for the students to take with them a hand made needle-case to remember not only the act of leaving school – but also this commission. It was chosen as an object that is portable and will always be of use, but is unique to this experience, and also because it was the object I took with me from school (I still have the pin cushion I made in the equivalent of Year 7).