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I have always been fascinated with portraits, and the personalities behind them. Whether creating quick figure studies in the street or labouring over an oil painting for hours, the features of the face and the emotions they hold grab my attention first.

I have tried other subjects, but I always come back to people - they fascinate me.

Like many other artists, I began my practice of portraiture by copying photographs of celebrities using graphite pencils. This was not necessarily exercising my creativity, but was instead allowing myself to improve my technical skills. It was at this point that I realised the difference that using smudging tools would make to the finish of your portrait, as well incorporating thin-tip erasers and fine liner. A lot of the celebrities I chose to draw came from the music I listened to at the time - pictured here are Jim Morrison, Grace Jones and Ray Charles.

Travel greatly impacted the subjects that I chose to represent in my art. Whilst exploring new places, I would eagerly take pictures and collect postcards. One of my favourite chalk pieces is inspired by the latter. During the summer of 2021 I spent a month in Istanbul, where I would frequently come across vintage markets selling disparate collections of family photographs and collectibles. I found this postcard in Karaköy and copied it in my hotel room in Sultanahmet. This is the first time I used gold leaf - for the added Iznik patterns around the border of the piece.

Whilst exploring new mediums in Istanbul, I also sought to copy my own photography in graphite pencil. Here is an elderly gentleman that was selling garlic in a marketplace in Eyüp. He had a weathered look, but seemed sturdy and at ease sitting amongst busy vendors and eager customers.

I visited another marketplace in the centre of Marrakech, where I photographed a henna artist sitting at her station waiting for customers. It was the rich blues and pinks of her clothing that caught my eye, as well as the burgundy patterns that she had carefully painted onto her hands. I enjoyed observing the skillfulness of this woman’s craft. I was connected to another artist. My portraits from Morocco are part of a wider collection - my next painting focuses on the busy tannery in central Marrakech.

Not only does travel photography greatly inspire my work. I also enjoy rummaging through my family archives, and this is how one of my favourite works began its journey. Titled Bill and Amar, the piece consists of two portraits knitted together from separate photographs of my great grandfathers. They never met and led completely different lives: the former a lightweight boxer who fought in WW2 and the latter a Sikh priest in Kenya Nevertheless, they are connected through my identity.

In October I began my MA in Mediterranean Archaeology and, as expected, it has impacted the content of my art. I now spend half of my life in museums, and the other half sifting through research papers. The complex provenance of the artefacts we stare in awe at fascinates me, and my current project recreates artefacts with the histories that museums often try to hide.

This is one of my proudest portraits. It is inspired by Caravaggio’s Mary and Martha, playing upon the Madonna/ Whore complex central to Christian art history. However the norms are subverted, with the women connected to their Levantine origins through appearance and iconography. This has exhibited in Gallerie V, Cambridge and The Holy Art, Hackney.

All text and photos by Tara Panesar. You can see more of her work on her art Instagram :


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