Wednesday, 11 March 2009
My coming portrait of Stephen Hawking
I met Prof. Stephen Hawking in Cambridge (UK) on June 4, 2008 after he kindly agreed with my proposal to do his portrait. I had this project in mind since the time I saw one of his painted portraits at the National Portrait Gallery in London : I was appalled (so was he I learned later). It showed him as a "poor handicapped" with a sad grin in front of a scribbled blackboard. It wasn't fair! Hawking is a survivor. Because of his condition he should have died decades ago. Not only didn't he die but he helped revolutionise science! He has become a celebrity but unlike many "famous people" he deserves it. He is an inspiration not only for the handicapped but for those, like myself, who are lucky to be "normal". His muscle paralysis prevents him from doing all what we take as granted. His cheek movements are measured by a device connected to a computer which is how he communicates now: writing 2-3 words a minute, yet he has written best-sellers!
My idea for a fair portrait was that it should induce us with a sense of admiration and respect, not "commiseration". Moreover, a portrait wouldn't be fair if we avoid what has been the center of his entire life: Science. So my idea (and I believe I am the first portraitist attempting this) is to include visually some of his scientific theories and concepts. Most famously is his research on "black holes", the "Big Bang" (with R. Penrose) and his attempt to reconcile the “macrocosmic” laws of Einstein's General relativity (e.g. Time and Space are modified by Strong Gravitational fields) and the “microcosmic” laws of Quantum Mechanics; "Black holes" (as the "singularity" in the Big Bang theory) being the best "place" where such a "reconciliation" would occur. These questions have given rise to many ideas, one of the most promising "Theory of Everything" being the "String Theory".
So, after many attempts I came up with the idea of a monumental portrait (1.5 x 1.2 meters) to give a sense of the magnitude of the phenomena Hawking is dealing with. The backdrop is a famous galaxy whose center, possibly a black hole, dents locally the canvas (as a "brane") of the painting and hereby affects our immediate reality (represented by Big Ben whose time is modified by the Black hole/Galaxy).
Hawking's face appears, partly hidden, with an ironic smile. Reading his books helped me to realise that he has a real sense of HUMOUR!
The portrait is half way done and many changes might occur before it is "finalised". It is a creative and therefore very "quantum-like" unpredictable process ;-)