House portraits from Potters’ Yard

July 23, 2016

The Limes (house portrait by Liz Mathews)

I made my first house portrait in 1986 – 30 years ago, and I’m still doing it so it must be an addiction.  I’ve always thought of these architectural studies in miniature as a kind of visual pun – an intimate portrait made from the very same material as its subject – which gives a curiously tangible feel to the likeness.

Braehead ceramic

I recently had the pleasure of making this portrait of a house built in the characteristic Moffat stonework of its area in Scotland – one man’s childhood home. The commission was to make the portrait ‘as it was one summer in the 60’s’ and I aimed to capture the telling detail that makes a good likeness, but also somehow to catch an atmosphere from memories of happy days. I worked from photographs and descriptions – and very much enjoyed hearing the stories and finding out the details that gave me a strong idea of the house’s feeling. When it was done, he said:

I am very pleased indeed… It is perfect. You caught the grey stone brilliantly, and I love the honeysuckle and the rest… – how well you caught the colour and detail. 

About this photograph, he wrote:

I think the portrait looks even better in real life. I am so glad I asked you to do it.  I love the colours and tones, and the way it looks welcoming and occupied.

and that the portrait is ‘now on show in a room that contains many of the things it once contained’, which I think shows how a portrait can become very closely identified with its subject. The success of a commission for me depends on this identification, where the portrait becomes a palimpsest, taking on qualities and characteristics of the house itself, and containing within its material form much more than appears on the surface.

Version 2

I also heard recently about this portrait of a traditional Hebridean blackhouse that I made years ago:

Many many years ago I commissioned you to do a little replica of my parents-in-law’s house. The result was exquisite and to this day it remains one of my mother-in-law’s most favourite possessions.

This lasting quality, how the portrait gives lasting pleasure and contains such significance is one of the real joys of the work to me. I’ve just set up a new website, to show a portfolio of some of my favourite past commissions and also to show how the commissioning process works. As one-off original signed artworks, these architectural portraits in miniature are surprisingly affordable; they start at £300. If you have a beloved building you think might make a good subject, send me a photo and I’ll give you a quote.

For more information, see Architectural reliefs & house portraits

Potters’ Yard house portraits is at http://www.pottersyardhouseportraits.com

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