Paul Mowbray Artist Craftsman

Artist and Craftsman

Works 4 - Portraits

For portrait commission enquires visit my contact page


Portrait painting feels more of a collaborative process so for my site I have included some simple insights into these ventures.

As an introduction to my portrait paintings, I have outlined and assembled a few recent works and works in progress.

Angela Cassidy

Portrait of Scottish Actress Angela Cassidy

Portrait of Scottish Actress Angela Cassidy

As an introduction to my paintings, I have outlined the approach to a recent portrait.

In late 2010, I started preliminary work on a formal portrait of actress Angela (Angie) Cassidy. I wanted to comment on my sitter’s professional background as well as painting a formal likeness.

In viewing portrait painting, interest often comes from studying the sitter, analysing the portrayed personality and perceiving the artist intensions in representing and arranging the person.

For my website, I have detailed my system of approach for the portrait, title, 'Angela Cassidy' finding the character.

Angie Cassidy - Scottish Actress

As the title suggests I have tried to capture a moment when the actor draws from within the intricacies of presenting a character through their persona.

For the painting I used photography as a reference aid and although the sitting was outdoors under natural sunlight, I wanted to manipulate this light and direct it. One technique of achieving this was to use a large reflector (I.) to deflect the sunlight from the ground upwards simulating the effects of footlights in a theatre stage; this light manipulation also gives the outlining contours of the face a sharp mask-like appearance, which relates to the early history of theatre masks in the acting profession (I.).

Angie Cassidy - Scottish Actress

For this portrait, I asked Angela to wear a vintage dress, with a stylised floral pattern and in the final portrait; the flowers in the garden backdrop surround her. The dress clads her in a stylised design from nature and this would be a comment on her profession in turn reflecting stylised human nature (II.)

To finish, the floral garden background was painted expressively in a low clarity to give the impression of a stage backdrop using just enough detail to convince but not detracting from the human interest.

Angela Cassidy - Room with a View

Room with a view, 2009, oil on canvas, 700 mm x 300 mm

While working with actress Angela Cassidy we often tried to cultivate narratives, frequently Angela would deliver a surprising array of dialogue from her repetoire of theatre productions, these would give colour to my concepts and help structure a particular atmosphere during a sitting.

From this collaboration came 'Room with a view', at the start I based the sitting on a playful cabaret performance. Originally looking at the socio- political and gender politics frequently the backbone of these performances. I changed this to a reduced crop from of the full performance concept party based on, Marlene Dietrich in 'The Blue Angel', this ended up a simple head and shoulder vignette. The incidental inclusion of the clock on my studio wall behind her, in a spacial sense rationalises the solid coloured wall colour behind her, but also draws in a time and beauty offset.

From the intent of the 'full on' cabaret asperation, this a cropped yet topical painting came in to being, although, like a cabaret show, when this work is on display it does seem to gather a small audience!

Paul Mowbray - Self Portrait

Self Portrait of Paul Mowbray

Self portrait, 2015 - (work in progress), oil on canvas, 710 mm x 865 mm

This self portrait is currently a work in progress. I rarely paint self portraits and if so they are usually very simple compositions. In contrast, for this one, I have taken more of a renaissance approach and occupied the work with abundant content. A favourite inclusion is inspired by Holbein’s ‘The Ambassadors’. The memento mori skull seen in anamorphic perspective in the foreground of Holbein’s masterpiece takes the form of my palette on this painting (note the sketched version below my portrait that details this). I plan to add more examples of anamorphosis to the picture as it nears completion.

Portrait of Dr Anna Keay, OBE
'High up in the Tower', Oil on Linen, 700 mm x 500 mm

Dr Anna Keay, OBE

The portrait above, of Anna, 'High up in the Tower' depicts Anna reflecting on the emblem books that were central to the narrative of the painted ceiling there. The emblem books from the 16th century were ideal material for us, not only authentic to the genre of this decorative style, but also great story telling devices to guide and interest the visitor of today. Anna is depicted here in one of the high rooms in the Tower, sitting on a window seat hewn in the colossal thickness of the walls. The serene peace of the Tower for me was intoxicating, as it sits in the landscape overlooking Inverness and the Moray Firth on the cusp of some sensational contour lines, as the Highlands really start to get dramatic. I was constantly stopped in my tracks with the atmospheric colours of the sky and landscapes through the hours, day and night. The vibrancy of this experience I have tried to incorporate in a colourific way, but also to balance with the counterpoint of calm, reflection, and the still depth of the darkness.

Portrait of Dr Anna Keay, OBE
Dr Anna Keay, OBE, 'The Fairburn Tower renaissance' oil on linen, 500 mm x 600 mm

In the summer of 2022 I was commissioned by the Landmark Trust to paint a traditional Scottish painted ceiling in Fairburn Tower. Anna Keay, the Trusts director is depicted during one of her visits while the ceiling was underway. Anna, the author of a number of books that afford us an insight into their given historical subjects, mentioned to me the time she would spend imaging historic places in the course of stages in their history. I felt I wanted to depict this somehow, especially with the Trust being the key in the resurrection of Fairburn Tower, from once being a ruin on the verge of collapse and loss to our cultural heritage. The fascinating story of Fairburn is now well documented on the Landmark trusts site, and I would urge all to take the time to explore this.

I must mention the Trusts historian Caroline Stanford, who was my luminary for the content on the project, giving the ceiling that special something for today, and for posterity.

M (grounded)

M (grounded) by Paul Mowbray

M (grounded). 2013. Oil on linen, 830 mm x 600 mm

M (grounded) - This portrait uses accelerated perspective heightened further by the lofty vista from the window. In contrast to this scale is the atmosphere of containment in the room. The painting balances on counterpoint. Isolation is balanced with the mobile phone, the rectilinear architecture with the curvilinear Murano glass ornament and swirling Beardsley print on the wall, also the new architecture compressing an old Church.


Emma by Paul Mowbray

Emma, 2011, 450 mm x 450 mm, egg tempera on hand prepared gessoed wooden panel

For reference, included is a photograph of the painting at the 50% complete stage (right image). The nature of painting in egg tempera makes it a lengthy process if one looks to fuse, blend and model tones. I look back at the 50% groundwork with its vitality and wondered if for this style of portrait it may have been a good point to consider the work complete? Although subjective, the photograph of the work taken at this stage affords the lesson, that we may work through an optimum point where the expression of a paint medium ably and best exists.


Broken by Paul Mowbray

‘Broken’, 2016, oil on linen (with marble gesso ground), 700 mm x 700 mm

'Broken' - This narrative portrait focuses on the recovery of a young girl after a near fatal fall from a local bridge. My subject had a back broken in three places and a broken leg. Painted remotely so to speak as a card to the family was reciprocated by a visit which gave me most of the mental sketches of my subject. Composition ideas at first were vague until I considered a style that recalls the elevated outstretched arm de rigueur of the selfie. Considering the injuries it avoids the typical inert convalescent pose. Alternatively, a dynamic depth of field is created from the face down through her rigid back brace into the glossy reflective floor, swallowing more distance. This depth of field is also suggestive of the height of the fall. The colouring of the floor, and the iris of her eye includes red and blue polarity in warm and cold colour along with diaphanous vanishing areas, reflecting the delicate balance of life. I have often used this blue and red polarity as a narrative device, starting with the abstract painting 'Balance' from 1991 (Acrylic on canvas) on page ‘Works 3’ of this site.

In this current work ink blue lines frame the girl, I intended these like the tracks of a pen sketch used in medical note and summaries. On the raw linen canvas, white marble was made into a paste with the gesso then applied first to areas that would be painted, this gave the bed a coarse spiked surface texture indicative of the persistent discomfort of the injuries. The finished work balances in fact and creative vision, an untypical view of recovery after near fatal injury. A contrasted painting, in ways direct and faithful then flowing, expressive and envisioned .


Portrait of Meg

'Portrait of Meg' - 2010 Oil on Board 1200mm x 6050mm

Darren McGinley

Darren McGinley by Paul Mowbray

Darren McGinley 2013. Oil on canvas, 820 mm x 530 mm

I asked musician and writer Darren McGinley to bring items of importance to him for his first sitting. I wanted to build in my sitters creative profession and typically they include items of the creative day, encompassing regime, reference and sentimental artefacts. We had a conversation about the large proportion of the day spent editing material in the creative process which helped prompt the inclusion in this portrait of an archaic editor’s pencil. The system of ‘action then refinement’ symbolised by the polarity of red and blue at alternate ends.


Dave 1 by Paul Mowbray

Dave 1. Oil on canvas, 700mm x 450mm

Dave Hunt is a fine art, vintage photographer and artist, I have gained an insight into this creative man and his art form over a number of years. This has ranged from us sharing exhibition space in galleries through to writing an article for Dave's iMoshe art magazine and even being his subject facing the business end of his vintage plate camera.

After the second lockdown in 2021, I went to visit Dave in his studio. First thing I notice was he had what I assumed to be lockdown hair, a large halo of curly hair which was quite a change from his close shorn regular appearance I had got to know. First thing I thought was, Vitruvian man!, let's get a portrait underway. I noticed his fascinating collection of vintage to modern cameras and asked if he could grab a favourite. The large rectilinear body and outward mechanicals of his favourite camera contrasts strongly against the organic curvilinear nature of the body in both these works.

The light and the dissolving of figure or face into it has a 'spiritual' value to me, but what I will communicate is as well as framing Dave's hair it travels down his left hand side and is punctuated with the dot of the lens over the heart, effectively forming a question mark. This question is how I see Dave in action, he has the model and finds the answers to what he is looking for, to my sensibilities at a lightening pace. Even on a vintage camera the lens cap is removed for a few seconds and the co-ordination of photographer and model is fused to the prepared plate in the camera instantly. Me, the painter, in contrast takes a great deal of time in creating the work managing all those small manipulations of viscous paint to capture the complex over what can be an extended period with a number of return visits to the work.

Dave 2 by Paul Mowbray

Dave 2. Oil on linen, 600mm x 500mm

Day triptych

2008 - 2009 oil on canvas

Noon interior by Paul Mowbray

Noon interior, 2008, oil on canvas, 750 x 750 mm

'Day triptych' - Scottish actress Angela Cassidy was my model for this triptych,"With Angela's countenance conveying a neutrality, this non-aligned (or objective) expression is the edge to cultivate meanings interpreted around the microcosm of the day and its parallel to other increments of time in our lives." Mowbray’s hallmark of subtle material variance comes into action in this series. For example, the first panel, which relishes the height of the day in all its clarity, is precisely painted on an extra fine textured canvas, the evening is on a medium weave and the final panel when night takes over; finer visible resolution subsides, as this panel is spontaneously painted on coarse jute.

Evening by Paul Mowbray

Evening, 2008, oil on canvas, 750 x 750 mm

Night by Paul Mowbray

Night, 2009, oil on jute, 750 x 750 mm

Lime wood sculpture in progress, model Angela Cassidy, 500 x 400 x 108 mm

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[ works 4 - portraits ] [ works 5 - the detail ]

Added: 16 Jun 2023 Updated: 11 Oct 2023