Our faces say who we are

We chat to our cover artist, Jimmy Law, about portraiture and what it’s like to be self-taught

Who or what is the source of your greatest inspiration? 
There are many artists whose work I admire, but my inspiration really flows from a genuine love for painting. I love the challenges of painting portraits.  

You’re self-taught; how did this come about?
I’m mostly self-taught. I studied graphic design and actually had painting as a subject. At the time I hated it because I wasn’t there to study fine art. So I actually rebelled against the idea of painting. Many years later, I discovered that I had a natural ability to paint—to some degree—but it took many years of frustration to teach myself to paint properly. These were years of experimentation and focused learning, trying new techniques and materials without any real guidance.  What drew you to art? I’ve always been artistic. I used to draw a lot as a child and into adulthood. Then I worked in the comic-book industry as an illustrator. All along I was painting in my spare time, mainly as a hobby, trying to get better at it. I had fallen in love with the idea of painting, but never imagined I could do it full time and successfully.  

Why do you work on such a large format?
I used to work on a small scale in my earlier years. I was intimidated by large canvases. As I became more confident I started to love the challenge of working on a much larger scale. Large-format pieces just have such a presence. Their scale always makes them impressive to look at. The largest piece I’ve done is four metres by two-and-a-half metres.  

Your work is all over the world; what’s been your strangest commission?
I’ve sold work to numerous international clients, some in the USA and also all over Europe. The galleries that represent me sell to international and local clients all the time. I haven’t really had any strange commissions, but I’ve had some challenging ones. Not too long ago I did a three-and-a-half metre family portrait for a local client, and that was quite a challenge.  

What are your thoughts on the South African art scene, and where do you see it going? 
I can sense a revival in the local art market. Demand for my work has increased substantially over the past few years. Speaking to gallery owners, I’ve found that they seem to agree that we have made it through the worst of the recession years and that sales are increasing. There are many local artists doing exciting work and making sales.  

Do you use models? 
I use sitters from time to time. I also make use of the Internet to source inspirational images. Using your own models gives you control. You can make your model pose in just the way you want, and use lighting the way you want, and so on, though I do work from photographs, too.  

What is it that you like about portraiture? 
I just love faces. Our faces say who we are. It’s what makes us unique. We all have different features and expressions. Eyes are very important to me. A person’s eyes can tell so many stories—and hide a multitude of secrets. I find it very interesting and challenging to capture not only a person’s likeness, but also the essence of his or her personality.  

Before Jimmy’s painting career took off, he made a living from airbrushing motorcycles, most of which were Harley-Davidsons. He and his fiancée now enjoy riding them in their off time, while their Scottish Terrier, Jemma, has to stay at home.  

For more on Jimmy, go to www.jimmylaw.co.za