Turning the Tables: Artists using Artists for Art / by Jeannine Cook

Monet-painting-by-E.-Manet.jpg
 Rodin, painted in 1884 by John Singer Sergent (Image courtesy of Musee Rodin, Paris)

Rodin, painted in 1884 by John Singer Sergent (Image courtesy of Musee Rodin, Paris)

It was a strange feeling. Suddenly, I was asked to become the subject of someone else's art-making. And not just to sit for a portrait in the usual sense of the word. Portraits are usually fairly straightforward affairs, either commissions or records of friends and colleagues. Artists tend to use their fellow artists as subjects because they esteem them, share creative time together (such as Edouard Manet painting Monet working in his studio-boat) or even, sometimes, because they need an inexpensive model. But my request to be the subject was a little different, I learned.

 Victor Hugo, drawn by Rodin

Victor Hugo, drawn by Rodin

I met photographer Cristina Oliveira when I came to Portugal's beautiful, wide Alentejo for an artist residency in Arraiolos, at Cortex Frontal. Alas, the residency imploded as the infrastructure, especially in terms of winter conditions and WiFi connections, was not adequate for a two-week stay. Nonetheless, I met this delightful, talented photographer, Cristina, and in due course, she proposed that I be the subject of a series of photos, as part of a book she is preparing for an exhibit project in Lisbon.

I agreed, a little curious, as I soon realised this was not going to be just a predictable pose. Somewhat to my astonishment, she was murmuring about Georgia O'Keeffe as inspiration for a way of photographing me.

So on a cold, very windy day, we met, and armed with a marvellous long black cloak, a stylish felt hat and a folding cafe-style chair for me, we set off into the country. Her objective: that I should pose in the middle of a sandy avenue of the most amazing, huge and majestic eucalyptus trees of great age. She had murmured about long skirts, but with the chill weather, I demurred as I did not want to look as if I were in the Arctic, although the icy wind felt a bit that way.

So I followed her directions, and we meandered along this magnificent avenue leading to a palace and huge old family farm belonging to friends. Every so often, she would ask me to pose again, as serendipity suggested.

Then I waited with great curiosity to see the images she promised to send. With Christmas travel intervening, I have only seen three, but more are to come in due course.

 Jeannine Cook, Arraiolos, 2016, (Photograph courtesy of Cristina Oliveira)

Jeannine Cook, Arraiolos, 2016, (Photograph courtesy of Cristina Oliveira)

 Jeannine Cook, Arraiolos, 2016, (Photograph courtesy of Cristina Oliveira)

Jeannine Cook, Arraiolos, 2016, (Photograph courtesy of Cristina Oliveira)

 Jeannine Cook, Arraiolos, 2016, (Photograph courtesy of Cristina Oliveira)

Jeannine Cook, Arraiolos, 2016, (Photograph courtesy of Cristina Oliveira)

I must admit I am a little intrigued at how I am seen and interpreted. But that is, of course, what every artistic creation is about - how each of us sees and interprets the world about us or in our heads. It has been a really interesting experience, having the tables turned on me as an artist. However, meeting Cristina and seeing her wide-ranging and thoughtful work has been a wonderful reward for coming to Portugal as an artist.