An Interview with Chris and Ken on their 100 Portraits

Back in February local Artists Chris Slater and Ken Horne set out on a new project, capturing 100 Portraits of people living or working in Rotherham. The pair gave themselves just 1 hour to complete each piece.

As I sat with them in ROAR’s project room, I asked why they decided to focus on 100 portraits and Chris chuckles “I just like the figure.” They realised that between them they could commit to one portrait per week and wanted the project to last no more than a year, as Ken neatly summarised: “We wanted it to be long term but not last forever.”

The pair have had no problem in gaining their 50 volunteers. After creating a couple of posters looking for “interesting” faces in the town, the rest of the sitters came via word of mouth; they have only really had one or two blatant refusals.

I asked them their most challenging portrait. Chris immediately perks up, “The most challenging one for me Ken were when that bloke fetched his dog.” Having to capture two figures in one hour proved a challenge. I enquired about the breed of dog, Ken quipped “It didn’t sit long enough for us to tell what it was.”

Ken, who works as Buildings Manager at ROAR, also hosts weekly Life Drawing classes every Tuesday at the organisation, and Chris is a loyal attendee. As we discussed, the discipline of Life Drawing probably aided them in this project as they are both used to working quickly, capturing 10 minute and 20 minute poses.

The pair didn’t know every person that they had to portray, they tell me that the first dozen they didn’t know at all. I asked them whether knowing the person that was sitting changed how it worked, or made it easier for them. “That’s a good one that” Chris said, “the person I have known longest in my life- which is 60 years- I found him the most difficult to do… Perhaps I know him so well I can’t just see him.”

This triggered a conversation about the process as a whole. “What is a portrait?” Chris ponders. “We were after trying to get the character out of them more than owt else, you know a likeness” Ken answers. “We wanted it to be raw, like an impression of a person” Chris added.

Ken explains how much of it was not about capturing exactly what the person looked like, almost impossible in the hour given: “You’re trying to pull something out that you can grasp onto.” In the process of this he started to pen down a line from what each person said, something that will give the viewer even more of an insight into the person portrayed.

I wonder whether it all got easier as time went on. “It got to the point where you could sit down and rattle them off, but that was damaging I thought” Ken commented.

Neither of them being portrait painters, in the process of the project they got better at identifying what they needed to focus on, but both admitted that it wasn’t a straight forward, up-hill improvement. “I started to become more aware of their body language than their face” Chris adds, something Ken admits he noticed in a lot of Chris’ paintings, how he cleverly captured the persons mannerisms and character.

The focus on Rotherham is very important to this project. “Rotherham people have their own… how to say this… are we ugly?” Ken asks. Chris scoffs. Evaluating his question Ken adds: “You look round people walking on the streets and we look like we’ve lived a hard life and that was where interesting faces come from” the adjective used on their original poster looking for volunteers.

Chris comments, “We’ll have to have a look at that when we get them all up.”

The pair will be revealing the portraits for the first time on Saturday December 2nd, in a new, creative site on Wortley Road in Rotherham, S61 1LZ. The preview evening will be running 6pm till late and the exhibition will be open the following week 3–9th December, 10am- 3pm.

You can see more about the exhibition on the Facebook event.