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Portrait Maria-1-2.jpg

When I start a portrait, I don’t have a concrete plan. I don’t ponder in advance what I want to depict in my portrait, I don’t have a vision of how it shall look. Whoever I paint, whether it is someone familiar, a stranger or myself, I always have to start anew, have to forget what I already think to know. As soon as my sitter has made him or herself comfortable, I start to choose and mix my colours. While I rummage in my repertoire of paint tubes, I listen which colours feel right in relation to the person before me. 


What is important while painting is that the painting is aligning with what I feel and see. As this process unfolds, I hope not to stop at the person’s physical appearance; the inner state and ongoings play a role too. I want to look at where the human before me is internally at the moment. My portraits do not claim to reflect a “complete” picture of a person, nor do they represent how I perceive that person in general. I do aim to depict various levels of a person, but only what I am honestly able to see while I paint. Therefore, I preferably complete a portrait in one go. However, sometimes I finish a portrait and feel like I didn’t quite find the right way of expressing what I could sense in a person, that there is a quality that I didn’t capture. Then I like to invite the person again, sometimes even stretching it out into a portrait series, as I did with my father Peter Wagner. 


In all this I am also reflecting on another aspect of portraiture, which I find hardest to find words for. I do see my portraits as something very personal, and it is very much about the individual in a specific moment. However, sometimes I do get the fleeting notion of something timeless and precious resting there in each person, untouched by all changes and individual configurations. Here I like to bring up Rembrandt as an example, who made a lasting imprint on my own approach to portraiture, as he was able to capture more than just the individual; looking at his paintings I get the feeling that there is something like a light shining through the depicted person. The experience is concrete, but subtle and words won’t do it justice. While I am unable to sketch it out theoretically, exploring and reflecting this subtle dimension is an important aspect of my approach to painting.1



1 My approach to portraiture is greatly influenced by Rohini Ralby, and many of her ideas which have impacted me can be found in her article “An Integrative Approach To Composition” (2022).


Portraits of my family

Fiktive Portraits
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