NPG 6400 (1b)

 

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Fax from Ross Wilson to Charles Saumarez Smith, the director of the National Portrait Gallery, dated 17 July 1997, giving an account of his commission to paint Derek Walcott.
Fax

I decided to take him a little portrait of John Keats from a show I'd had in Rome, I knew he liked Keats, I knew Keats would help.

I set out to walk to Derek Walcotts house about 30 minutes away sea showed me the way as its blue edge touched the coastal path, I was walking deeper and deeper into a Walcott poem then I saw him sitting in the cool shade waiting in his own world. He was a real "Caribe man" copper brown like old pennys he was younger looking and fitter than I had thought, he was cool and there was a mystery about him. I knew he was special.

He watched as I approached, reading me. He was leaning against a tree in a chair, balancing on the back of two legs, hard to do at sixty six, but done well. He let the chair come forward and at the same time rose, stretched out his hand, I reached to him and we shook the sun flashed behind his head, I felt friendship in that first moment weilded by the sun, even before we spoke I knew things were going to be OK.

"How do you like St. Lucia?" he asked
"It's another Emerald Isle" I said. He laughed, I looked at him again in that bright light and I knew he was The Sun Poet. We talked and worked, I made fast studies the Caribbean sea and the Caribbean sky were behind him and above him I was in his world and the sun was everywhere. It was hard enough to take in, a bit like the land of Oz, the Yellow Brick Road had led right to his door, there was no other wittness but the sun. No one would believe me, no one would understand.