Sarah Jane Moon recently exhibited work alongside Emma Hopkins in ‘Inside Portraits’, a special exhibition at the Mall Galleries celebrating the work of 2 previous recipients of the RP Bulldog Bursary. Sarah Jane Moon is also currently exhibiting at the Royal Society of Portrait Painters Annual Exhibition which ends on May 1st.
Lisa: Why do you paint portraits?
SJM: I think life is mostly about people and the connections we have with others and so I like to explore this through portraiture. The notion of portraying another person, their identity, what makes them peculiarly them, is a process that I find endlessly intriguing. It is also something I continue to find difficult technically and so continually want to do better at it, which is great impetus for productivity.
Lisa: Who’s satisfaction for a portrait is more important – the sitter’s or the painter’s?
SJM: I think both are integral to the making of a good painting, but that this ultimately depends on the context of a painting’s development. Portraits are not always commissioned and in these instances they can become more like personal projects. However if one has a sitter who is commissioning a portrait then of course it is preferable that they are satisfied with the outcome.
Lisa: How do you go about painting a portrait – is there a set process or does it vary from sitter to sitter?
SJM: This generally varies between paintings but I do have a process of sorts that begins with sketching in. Everything is done on the canvas. Then various sections are worked up and worked over, until I feel I’ve given adequate attention to the whole.
Lisa: What medium do you like to work with when painting a portrait?
SJM: I usually only work with oils when painting portraits and other subject matter. Occasionally I will use acrylic as a base if for example the painting surface is particularly large. I also work in graphite occasionally.
SJM: I like to make portraits that also operate as successful pictures, in terms of composition and narrative. This can at times be challenging.
Lisa: Can you tell us a bit about the exhibition/residency you are involved in at the Mall Galleries?
SJM: ‘Inside Portraits’ is a joint show featuring my work and that of Emma Hopkins, who is a wonderfully talented painter and this year’s recipient of the Bulldog Bursary. The work I am exhibiting is largely the result of my bursary year, where I became particularly interested in challenging myself in terms of scale and scope. There are some very large canvases, one of which incorporates 19 people. All depict friends, many of whom are artists, writers, performers and entrepreneurs.
Lisa: Do you anticipate a dialogue to emerge between the portraits during the show? Your work is very different so I imagine it will be really interesting to have the contrasting approaches to portraiture hanging within the same gallery.
SJM: Yes, I think there is already a dialogue emerging. We didn’t consult much with each other during the making of the work as such and both areas are in many ways very distinct, but I think they contrast nicely. Emma’s work has a subtlety and nuance that is forensic in detail whereas my work is rather graphic and loud, perhaps detailed in a different way. I think these contrasts are heightened in the show.
Lisa: Which other portrait painters do you admire and why?
SJM: I very much like the work of contemporary painters like Tim Benson, Andrew James, Susanne du Toit among others. And though not purely portrait painters, Auerbach, Freud, Alice Neel, Paula Rego, Maggi Hambling continue to influence my work. Also NZ painters like Rita Angus and Colin McCahon have bearing on the way I paint. There are really too many to name.
Lisa: If you could paint the portrait of anyone who would you choose?
SJM: Generally my work involves depicting those around me and who are important to me. I am not particularly interested in celebrity culture, but having said that there are people in public life who I hugely admire for the work they do or have done. Perhaps someone like John Berger or Germaine Greer.
Lisa: Where online or in the flesh can we see more of your work?
SJM: The ‘Inside Portraits’ exhibition runs until Sunday 19th April and thereafter I have a painting in the RP annual show which closes 1st May. I am exhibiting with The Lots Road Group at The Chelsea Town Hall and also in a group portraiture show at the Gibberd Gallery (both in May). My work is online at sarahjanemoon.com.