F.man’s portrait of the Belgian Royal family.
Muhammad Yusuf, Features Writer
Dubai-based Belgian artist F.man took her earliest artistic steps when she was 11 years old, when she painted her first portraits in oil on canvas. Since then, she has experimented with gold, silver and metallic paint and in search of inspiration and new insights, has travelled to Antwerp, Amsterdam, Vienna, Paris, Bratislava, Prague, Strasburg, Kuala Lumpur and Perth, among other places. “I have been studying people for decades and how painters depict them,” she says. “Like Johannes Vermeer, even before I was able to read, I was looking at his realistic paintings, full of stories.
“Also, the works of Marcel Maeyer, Belgian curator, art history professor, and fascinating artist. He was one of the pioneers of hyperrealism. And Michel Buylen: I like the way how he expresses the feel of water and heat of the skin in his hyperrealistic works. “And when I was 19, I was discovering the Belvedere Museum in Vienna and Gustav Klimt, one of my favourites.” Her latest accomplishment is the portrait of the Belgian Royal family she did for the Belgian Pavilion in Expo 2020 Dubai. F.man paints a picture of her life and work on Gulf Today’s canvas
Why did you decide to paint the Royal family of Belgium (besides the motivation of being a Belgian national)?
The Embassy of Belgium contacted me for the 50th anniversary of the bilateral collaboration between Belgium and the UAE, to exhibit my works in three locations in the Emirates, commencing in Manarat al Saadiyat, which was to be the start of this travelling exhibition. During a meeting in the new Belgian Embassy in Abu Dhabi last year, the Ambassador showed me (on his phone), some portraits of Queen Beatrix of The Netherlands painted by Andy Warhol and portraits of other Dutch painters, as examples.
They also showed me the empty walls of the Embassy, where a possible portrait of our Royal couple, King Philippe and Queen Mathilde, could be displayed, because they knew they would visit Expo 2020 Dubai. Since then, I began to follow each post of the Royal family; it was part of the job to understand and study their vibes and personalities. The complexity of painting a good realistic portrait of theirs is not easy, when you have only seen them from far and never met and talked to them face-to-face. I also studied videos to capture their expressions. The Cabinet of His Majesty the King was very helpful to permit me to have a photo to serve as a basis for my painting.
What aspects of the monarchy appeal to you?
In my view, a good monarchy spreads a canopy of stability and values over a homeland. For example, a few years ago Belgian politicians couldn’t agree on the formation of a newly elected government; we had no government for a year. Fortunately, our King was there to facilitate and maintain stability for the greater good of the country. It is something similar to how the Sheikhs of the UAE rule and take to heart their responsibility as fathers of the nation. This helps the population peacefully focus in a secure and healthy environment, so that everybody who chooses to, is able to develop their own dreams, goals and life purpose.
What was the first thought when you began painting this piece?
Understanding the significance of the royal couple. The beautiful, close and supportive bonds with their children and the beautiful connection they demonstrate. And finding a way to paint the link with their symbols and with the Belgian people.
What, according to you, are the colours that express royalty fittingly?
Blue and purple are colours that have been associated with royalty, art, and spirituality for a long time. So, it felt very appropriate to choose these colours as the main tones. The blue forest flowers are a unique, local appearance in the spring in Brabant, the province where our Royal family lives, and close to where I grew up as well. The flowers symbolise beauty. The collection of so many individual flowers represents the Belgian people, referring to the national motto of Belgium, ‘Unity makes Strength’.
Are you aware that your work will find a place in the Belgian Royal palace? How do you feel?!
I would be deeply honoured. Reading your question and visualising this possibility, makes me happy. Some of my works are in the collection of the Royal families of Abu Dhabi and Dubai. The concept of the court artist always intrigued me since I was a child.
Were you influenced by portraits done on Royal families by other artists? If so, what are the works that impacted you?
Yes, Royal portraits have always been an inspiration for artists. You have the Old Masters/court painters such as Jan van Eyck, Leonardo da Vinci, Anthony van Dyck, and Peter Paul Rubens. But in modern times too, artists such as Andy Warhol, Gerhard Richter and Damien Hirst, have portrayed Royals.
Do you feel your art does full justice to the family?
My intention is very pure - to represent them in the best possible way. It was a big challenge to catch their souls in the portraits collectively. Painting one portrait correctly is one tricky thing, and capturing the whole family and their interaction, is another level.
It was a long and intense journey; but I definitely had a wonderful time making this piece.
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