THE BLOG

Sitting for a Portrait Is Just Like a Therapy Session

17/06/2015 12:44 BST | Updated 16/06/2016 10:59 BST

The other day I agreed to sit for my portrait.

Not that I want to hang it in my consulting rooms for my clients to stare at, but I thought it would be something for the "vanity" department. After all, these days so many people take "selfies" - including the Prime Minister David Cameron, so I thought, a portrait is a one-off and a little more expensive than a selfie.

I didn't want a traditional, serious portrait - I wanted something quite lively, expressive and possibly quirky. Boring was what I wanted to avoid.

Luckily, through friends I have known for some years, I came across a rather talented artist, who also happens to be the lead singer in the group called The Correspondents. He name is Ian Bruce (www.ianbruce.net) and his group will be playing at Glastonbury soon. So not only is he a gifted painter, but also a musician of some note.

I phoned Ian up, and we agreed to set up an appointment - we met over a cup of tea one rainy afternoon in London. We talked about various things and then once I agreed to "sit" for him, he asked me to come to his studios in south London.

Ian has a little dog, a miniature Jack Russell called Betty - she is still young and very friendly, so when I had enough of sitting in front of Ian I offered to take Betty for a walk to a nearby park.

But during the actual painting - he was working and I was sitting or standing - I realised that Ian could be a psychotherapist and I could be the client sitting on the sofa.

How suddenly, the roles seemed to be reversed. Another benefit I thought to myself was that from having ones portrait done, similar benefits could be derived from a therapeutic counselling relationship - mutual trust. I told Ian that I didn't want to look at his work until it was finished. In other words, I trusted him implicitly and didn't want to direct his painting. "Just look towards me," he would say repeatedly - and I did as I was told.

The portrait sittings appear to be instrumental in establishing precisely this kind of relationship between client and artist. I imagine that other clients, like me, can say how easy it was to talk to Ian as he worked away - in the case of a therapist, as they sit back and listen away attentively.

And just like a session with a psychotherapist, a portrait sitting offers a safe space and a time in which to discuss concerns and experiences in a confidential manner. I'm guessing that Ian has quite a few people's secrets tucked away in his paint boxes.

There certainly is no getting away from the comparison between analysis and portrait painting. Even Lucian Freud, the grandson of the famous Sigmund Freud, is said to forge his closest relationships in his studio. Lucian, who was believed to be somewhat sceptical about analysis, would say to many of his sitters, "Now tell me about your childhood."

It's something that Ian Bruce didn't ask me though.