The artist talks her parent’s influence on her career path and the intricacies of portrait painting.
When it comes to art, nothing is more awe-invoking than watching an artist capture the essence of a person within a portrait. And, someone doing this with effortless flair is Fanny Rush. Born into an inherently creative family and boasting the unique skill of being able to channel aspects of personality and emotion with every brushstroke, the talent has made a name for herself amongst business tycoons and famed stars alike, all of whom turn to her for commissioned pieces.
When speaking on her craft and collaborating with clients, the artist explained, “I like to give them lunch at my studio or sit with them for a while at their home so that I can quietly come to know their face, observe how they hold themselves, and discover something of who they are. I then take my reference photographs for the portrait trusting in my instincts for the design. We will look at the images together, and I will explain my ideas. I will always make sure that my clients are happy with their portraits; their feedback is very important to me.”
Sitting down with Wonderland, the artist got candid on her process and how her creative upbringing influenced her career path. Head below to enjoy our interview with Fanny Rush…
Tell us about the path that led you to portraiture!
Both my parents, Peter Rush and Caroline Lucas, are professional artists. My brother Joe Rush, who is a sculptor, and I grew up with everyone around us painting and drawing. The everyday language around us was about observation, a cornfield with poppies or the way frost grew in white tree-like shapes on a windowpane. So it was no surprise to anyone that we both became professional artists. It has always been second nature for me to look for the beauty in spontaneous combinations of light, shape and colour in everything around me. =I always knew that I would end up making images, and in my early career, I wanted some glamour too, so I became a fashion stylist in London and then an art director in the film industry in Brazil. I came to painting in Sao Paulo when, after years of drawing for pleasure, I picked up a paintbrush and knew immediately that this was what I was born to do. I spent another year in Brazil just painting and came home with a roll of painted canvases tucked under my arm. I continued to paint in London, selling paintings and building my skills. Portraiture came into my life when, after painting the portrait of a friend, I was asked to paint the portraits of people I didn’t know. This was terrifying as portraits are so personal and notoriously difficult to paint. I think I must have always looked very closely at faces all my life because I found not only that I loved painting the human face, but also that I could do it. It is a journey of exploration to find out and portray exactly who this person is and to portray the best of them.
Can you describe your work to someone who may not be familiar with it?
I design the portraits as complete pictures so that everything comes together to make a beautiful image. Shape, colour and light all work together, and every portrait designed is done so specifically for the person portrayed.
Who are your most valuable influences in portrait painting, and what have you learned from them?
At a certain stage of the process, the face on the canvas seems to come alive and communicate with me. This communication extends to anyone viewing the finished portrait. The painters I really admire understood this phenomenon and I can see it in their work. Namely, Rembrandt, Lucian Freud, Goya and my favourite is the lesser-known painter William Nicholson, whose understanding and use of light is extraordinary.
What has been the most important creative lesson you have learned?
My father told me, “Paint what you see, not what you think you see and always know where the light is coming from.” It sounds very simple, but the human brain can be very lazy about what it’s looking at and will make all sorts of short-cut assumptions. You have to train yourself to really see and also to understand exactly what sort of light is there, why is it like that and how it is working. How it touches things, how it bounces and reflects. It will give you all you need to know about what you are looking at. I also learned from my parents that talent constitutes only a part of what you make. It’s the skills that you learn by continuously working, exploring and challenging yourself that makes you good at what you do. Things going wrong are great lessons, they force you to get past the horrible feeling of failing and think deeper, and this is how you improve. You need to be brave and sometimes do something that your instinct is indicating, but which feels unsafe or silly to your brain. It’s worth it because it can show you something you could not have imagined. You might have to modify it or take it in a slightly different direction, but you wouldn’t have had it to build on if you hadn’t taken the risk. People say you need two people to make a painting, one to paint and one to take away the brush before the painter spoils it, but I don’t think so. I think you have to push it further than is comfortable, just don’t lose track of what is happening so that you can go back or modify.
How do you work with clients to achieve the final portrait? Do they often have something specific in mind?
They have come to me because they like what I do and are usually open-minded about my ideas for their portrait. I like to give them lunch at my studio or sit with them for a while at their home so that I can quietly come to know their face, observe how they hold themselves, and discover something of who they are. I then take my reference photographs for the portrait trusting in my instincts for the design. We will look at the images together, and I will explain my ideas. I will always make sure that my clients are happy with their portraits; their feedback is very important to me.
How long does it take you to complete a portrait?
It depends on the size, but it averages out at about six weeks. I paint every afternoon for about five hours which is as much as I can do. The work is very intense, it’s like playing chess. Every brush stroke is important and considered. Sometimes the completion of a portrait takes longer because of the practicality of the live sittings. I need to have the actual face in front of me at some point to make sure that the likeness is spot-on and to put life into the portrait – and to allow my sitters to give me feedback. For my international clients, it’s usually just one final sitting which we will do when I take the portrait to them; this completes the portraits.