I was thinking about portraits the other day, partly because of the “Making Faces” show currently going on at the Society of Illustrators, partly because I had just received a copy of Brian Movies that features Iain McCaig’s portrait of Harlan Ellison on the cover, partly because I noted the sale at auction recently of what, to me, was a not-terribly-good painting of Robert Silverberg by the late Ed Emshwiller.
What makes a successful portrait, particularly when the subject is a writer? The answer that immediately comes to mind is: personality. If the artist is able to capture something of who the writer is, not merely what they look like, and elicit responses from viewers and which prompts conversation... then there’s a good chance of creating art, not just a painted version of Glamour Shots.
Now, I’ve never really heard of any controversy surrounding a genre writer’s portrait; certainly nothing like the brew-ha surrounding John Singer Sargent’s painting of Madame Gautreau aka “Madam X.” The flip-side is that I’ve heard very few people say anything positive about some of the clever SFF writer portraits that have been done... so I think I’ll point out a few.
[More than a few]