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Jesse van Dun

Portrait of Raffaele van Dun

Jesse van Dun, "Portrait of Raffaele van Dun", Oil on linen, 40 x 50 cm.

Apr 9, 2021 at 16:19

Hello Jesse,

I got to know your work for the first time when I came to see the exhibition at the academy last year. (Was it last year? Due to corona, I sometimes don't know how to estimate time very well anymore.) The large image of the crucifixion of Christ had a magical attraction to me. Maybe it was the size, I thought at first. Afterward, I thought, no, it is the symbolic typology that lies in it. Then I saw sketches and studies in your presentation book and I knew what spoke to me: the bodies in your image.

With great respect for tradition, you have succeeded, from my perspective, to create a very contemporary image of those bodies. As if your own physicality has played a role in the way you approached the bodies (that carry such a rich narrative and history).

Last week, when I was reading and writing about my discoveries in portrait paintings, I suddenly had to think back to the body that I saw hanging on the wall in that painting room. I was therefore very moved when I discovered your Portrait of Raffaele van Dun. The title suggests that you have a personal, more intimate, connection with the figure in the portrait. That's how I experience it when I take in the man in the image.

I discovered, during my encounters with portrait artists, that there is an interesting tipping point of intimacy within the process of portraying, which may or may not be indulged in by the artist and sitter together. An initial meeting can give a first impression or (in)print of one another. With time, more encounters can give space and time for deeper personal contact. As a result, a sense of distance can disappear, and the viewing can also change. There comes a point where initial impressions are no longer enough. You then really have to get to know each other better; the portrait asks for a much deeper encounter. There seems to be no middle ground. In my eyes, portraiture exists either as a brief encounter in a small time frame, or as a long, in-depth process of relating. Surface-level encounters over a longer period only obstruct the creation of a true portrait , that's how I feel.

It seems to me that you have known Raffaele for a longer time. And this is where my interest lies in you as a maker: what made you decide to portray him? Was it important to know the person personally - so you could use parts of that knowledge to make your composition? Was that important as a kind of anchor or reference for you as a maker, to be able to balance out the human aspect in the image?

Apr15, 2021 at 10:33

Thank you for your special interest in my work. It is remarkable to me that the physicality in my painting of the Crucifixion catches your eye. For me, the bodies served primarily as a means of portraying the story, or the "scene". Still, since I myself posed as the Christ on the cross and the Saint John in the red robe, I must admit that it was a real physical effort to create the photographic material for the design of the painting. It is the first time that I took a role as an actor for my own paintings.

I made the portrait of Raffaele van Dun, my younger brother, in a period between my Bachelor's and Master's Degree. It arose from the need to supplement my then meager portfolio for a possible entrance exam.

During that period I was looking for a way of looking that would lead me to the discovery of a deeper layer in reality. I wanted to portray raw, non-plagiarism, hoping to reflect what you only see when you look at your subject longer and more closely. I also recognize what you say about "the tipping point in intimacy during the portrayal process". Mainly when portraying to a live model.

At the time I chose to paint my brother because I had, and still have, a very close relationship with him. He is also my only brother in the family, and we were the only children still living at home.

Making a portrait is an intimate activity, which is why I think a portrait of an acquaintance or friend is more personal and layered. In my opinion, the human aspect in the portrait is an after-effect of the extent to which the maker succeeds in understanding his model. The bond with the sitter is crucial.

Some time ago I looked at the portrait again and noticed that I painted it at a time when he was really struggling with himself. He found the portrait sessions difficult to endure and he benefited from many breaks. I found this discovery of his psychological state very interesting. It brought me to the conclusion that as a maker you make a general composition of the sitter, in which his or her psychological and physical condition come together in one image. You create an image of the person who can often say much more than a photograph.

I also made the portrait of my brother in my bedroom, which may have caused the image to feel a bit cramped. Everything about this portrait is personal.

With best regards,

Jesse van Dun


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