The portrait project recap

The portrait project began at CN&CO in 2015 when the CEO of the wealth and investment division of a large global bank asked us to get hundreds of individual portraits of its staff, worldwide, commissioned and delivered within seven days.

CN&CO teamed up with Ann Roberts and Business and Arts South Africa (BASA) to get the portraits done within the seven-day deadline. More than 40 South African artists, each with their own style and approach to art, were identified through the BASA and CN&CO networks to collaborate on this campaign.

Business and Art South Africa (BASA) develops partnership between business and the arts in a variety of ways. CN&CO enjoys a close association with BASA, with Carel Nolte being a member of the board. BASA encourages mutually beneficial partnerships between business and the arts, securing the future development of the arts sector in South Africa.

With the success of the portrait project at the global bank, Purple Group took on the project at its headquarters with a wall collage of hand painted portraits of its team placed at the forefront of its offices. The artists commissioned to create our clients portraits have also created the team portraits that appear on the wall of CN&CO’s Illovo HQ.

CN&CO continues to proudly commission artist Marion Fuchs as she continues to produce quality portraits for our partners. Marion studied art at the Johannesburg School of Art, Ballet, Drama and Music. “I love painting portraits. I love the looking, the seeing, the noticing, the recognition of likeness when it really looks like the person. I love the challenge of expressing something of the person, the character, the personality. It’s an intimate collaboration,” says Marion.

Here’s a little more about how Marion feels about the projects:

I was approached to do a corporate project along with many other South African artists. All the employees of the organisation were to have their portraits painted, by a wide range of artists, with widely varying styles. The organisation provided the canvases – deep edged 20x20cm white canvases, so that each image would be exactly the same size. They were to make a large wall display in the foyer, all hung together.

Now, this really presented me with a challenge, apart from the tight deadline and low budget. I couldn’t spend too much time on each, and I couldn’t meet the sitter. The canvases were delivered, and the photographs were emailed to me. I had a photo – sometimes no bigger than a postage stamp, and a name. But what was the person like? Was she shy? Was he far from home, and did he leave his family behind? Is she wearing a turban for religious or cultural reasons, or is it a fashion statement? I found myself making up stories about them or inventing lives for them as I painted. Because I need to know about them, and I need to know who they are to get something of them on the canvas.

I don’t know why, but I do feel that the portrait must somehow flatter the sitter. Not the notorious airbrushing of the magazine industry, but I do go looking for what makes the face interesting and the features that are most attractive, and I subtly draw attention to those. I might make the eye colour brighter or the hair slightly thicker or a richer colour. I often change the colour of the collar. I experiment with background colour for different complexions. But I try to be faithful to the likeness, as best as I can.

I imagine them walking into the office every day, and seeking out that one portrait on the wall that they know is theirs, and I want them to see themselves there, and not want to cringe and look away. I want them to smile a secret smile, and walk into the elevator a little taller. I guess I want them to feel seen. Noticed. Visible. I want to capture enough of them that they feel understood at some level. I will never know if they do or not. I am given good feedback by the agency. The portraits are well received. People feel that the likenesses are good. I have a lot of repeat work from them, and have now done nearly 100 of these little portraits. They have been a good source of income, but also have allowed me to really hone my portrait painting skills. Each one I paint makes me a better painter.

Another artist that has contributed to many of the portrait projects for CN&CO is Michael Smith. Michael is also responsible for having painted our team’s portraits that appear in the West Wing of our Headquarters. Michael shared some thoughts with us about his experiences working on the portrait project:

I have worked with CN&CO on the company’s corporate portrait project for a number of years, and have enjoyed the process immensely. I’ve created works for CN&CO’s clients within the same parameters each time: 20 x 20 cm ink paintings or charcoal drawings from head shot photographs. Making portraits is a surprisingly intimate experience, despite the fact that I’ll probably never meet most of the people I have rendered: as the artist, you obsess over the smallest detail of the eyes and the mouth, try to do the sitter justice, and also tried to capture something indefinable, their character or personality. A good portrait delves deeper than surface texture, lighting and features: it becomes about making something that the subject themselves can live with, and also something that their peers recognize as being an extension of them.

I am a Johannesburg-based artist, with a Fine Art degree from Wits University (1996), and work full-time as the Head of Art at St David’s Marist Inanda in Sandton. I specialize in charcoal and ink work, and have exhibited work around in numerous solo and group shows, as far afield as New York. My most recent project is a series of text-based paintings dealing with the ‘language’ of cryptocurrency, for the Woordfees 2018 in Stellenbosch.

CN&CO is passionate about the arts and continues to draw on our partnership with artists and BASA to encourage other corporates to invest in business and arts in our country providing opportunities for South African artists to showcase their work through multiple different avenues. We hope to continue our relationship with corporate partners and invest in new relationships in order to continue growing the portrait project.