Over the years we have commissioned a number of artists to do a work on a specific subject. In the mid-seventies we asked Philip Clairmont to paint the interior of our living room. We had always liked his paintings of this subject matter and he was still working with the idea so it seemed like a good idea.
A few weeks passed though and no word from Phil. When we did get together he told us that he wasn’t very good at house painting and that he wanted to pass on the job. Right. Once that was sorted out, he suggested that instead of an interior he made a double portrait of us based on a photograph. Over the next 10 months we spent many weekends out in Waikanae visiting Phil Clairmont, his wife Viki Hansen and their daughter Melissa and watching the painting take form, change radically and radically change again.
One week, early in the process, we went into the studio (the living room at that time, later Phil would move into the garage) and saw the portrait rich with smoldering blacks, sparks of yellow and highlights of ultramarine and deep cobalt blue. It was sensational. We loved it and subtly - and then not so subtly - suggested to Phil that the painting was not only finished, it was one of his great works. Big mistake. The painting was to go through many, many more changes, some we liked, some not so much. The final result had Jim glowering and Mary scrunched up grinning to herself.
But Phil liked the painting a lot and asked if we would lend it to his Barrington Gallery exhibition. It was shown there and that was pretty much the last time it was seen. Where is it now? Safely tucked away in a place that won’t be readily discovered (think of it as archived with a physical embargo on it). One day, far into the future, someone will find it again. “Look, there’s a painting here of a smiling woman and some guy who looks like Hitler!”
Images: Top left, In the studio August 1974. Top right, Philip Clairmont with portrait November 1974. Bottom left, Philip Clairmont with portrait January 1975. Bottom right, February 1975