My Favourite Portrait by Bill Morris

Bill Morris


Taken from the Gallery Supporters’ Magazine, Face to Face
Issue 26, [Autumn 2008]
© National Portrait Gallery, London

It was exqiosote torture, trying to pick out just one portrait for this article. The collection of great Olympians and Paralympians was an obvious target, and the multi-media portraits of Sir Steve Redgrave nearly won me over. The most striking photograph of Denise Lewis was incredibly beguiling too – her statuesque physique and the most penetrating of stares that told you everything about medal winning.

It makes you reflect on the profound difference between the ubiquity of digital photography and the revealing brilliance of true portraiture. The first is often a poor copy of the original whilst the second interprets the inner self of the subject and the artist. So what did I choose – and why?

As soon as I saw it, I was compelled by the arresting commission of Sir Paul Nurse, Nobel Prize winner, painted by Jason Brooks. From a distance it tricks you into believing that it is an engaging black and white photograph. On closer inspection, you have to abandon these assumptions, because this is a highly detailed, painstakingly executed painting.

Through this confusion over the medium, Brooks instantly propels us into questioning portraiture, begging us to examine this sitter. The cinematic crop of the face, and the shallow depth of field, are deliberate photographic techniques Brooks has employed to highlight the electrifying eyes of this man. You are drawn to Nurse through the searing intellect and the unshakeable determination emanating from these eyes.

Nurse has been painted with every bristle on display, delivering a ‘what you see is what you get’ feeling. This is what excites me about all of these portraits, these renowned figures, famous for their astonishing achievements, but so devoid of the cult of the celebrity image. This is where art plays a great role in the lead-up to the London 2012 Games. These works stretch the understanding and limitations of portraiture, delving deeper to illuminate something more of the passion and motivation of the great sitters, exactly what the Olympiad hopes to inspire.

Bill Morris
Director of Culture, Ceremonies and Education, London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games

As Director of the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games, Bill is responsible for all the London 2012 ceremonies including the Opening and Closing Ceremonies and the Torch Relay. He is also in charge of the Cultural Olympiad, the London 2012 Education programme and the network of Live Sites being established around the UK.

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