“Madiba, the painting is as beautiful as you are!” exclaimed Zelda La Grange, on viewing the finished picture. Zelda’s reaction set the tone for what was to be the culmination of three months work. It’s always nerve-racking exposing a portrait to the sitter, and even more so when the subject is one of the most famous people on the planet.
The work had been a labour of love, as it had been a long-held ambition of mine to paint a portrait of Mr. Mandela. When I was invited at his office in Johannesburg for sittings in the early spring, I felt it to be a rare and extraordinary privilege.
The experience of painting Mr. Mandela has been unforgettable, and a truly humbling circumstance to be in his presence. The challenge was not only to capture a good likeness, but also fulfill a great public expectation and record something of his extraordinary spirit. Really, getting a sense of the essence of the man. It certainly wasn’t easy; time on both our parts was tights. We talked about many of the people we had in common and especially our mutual friendship with Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Our reminiscences and shared memories brought and easy-going relationship to the sittings.
On seeing the work for himself, Mr. Mandela smiled broadly and clutched my hand in his. His eyes twinkled and I guess for such a modest man, he felt that the portrait did him justice. He has a marvelous face, with all life’s experience etched upon it. The intelligence in his eyes, the care and compassion, the heroism and gentleness are all part of the man. I hope that this portrait has gone some way to capturing his charisma and great personal dignity.