Man and Woman

figurative artist peter d'alessandri with his painting man and woman

“Man and Woman” is a painting that I thought was finished over ten years ago. I’ve suffered years of nagging doubts, and a real reluctance to show it publicly, such that I finally decided to rework it.
It was only going to be a small amendment, but in the end I had to repaint the entire surface.

It’s debatable about how much the revision is an improvement. The poses are almost identical. Some people might prefer the earlier version. That’s irrelevant. I feel that the later revision is much closer to the painting that I tried to produce in 2009. Although the original version was no doubt true to the reference photos I was working from, I don’t think it captured a true likeness of the female figure.

I should explain something about the background to this painting. My partner had just passed away after a long illness, and in a splurge of activity I set about working on a series of paintings that recorded my lost partner and our relationship. Most had been planned while she was still alive (I had taken reference photos and made preparatory sketches), but sadly her poor health meant I was unable to work on them at the time. This was the last of that series, and for some reason it was the only one I was unhappy with.

figurative artist peter d'alessandri working on his painting man and woman

The problem with resuming work on a painting after such a long time is that my painting technique has changed over the years. I still start with a monochrome underpainting, but my palette of colours has changed considerably, I use different mediums, and my use of glazes has become more restrained.
Nevertheless it was an interesting exercise. The photo below shows a lighter palette in the revised painting.

Another interesting aspect of this exercise is that I no longer have the original reference photos. Much of the work on my late partner’s face was done from memory, which would normally have been outside my comfort zone. One area where my painting has changed is that I am less beholden to reference photos, and feel more confident to wander off track. I believe that I have achieved a better likeness here by doing just that.
In writing this post, and looking at photos of the two versions side by side, it does feel like a lot of work for only a small change. But it was worth it. I feel happier showing it now.

Edit: “Man and Woman” has since been shortlisted for the LGC Art Prize 2023
A recent post about the competition can be found here:  LGC Art Prize

Learning from Rembrandt

The Jewish Bride by Rembrandt
The Jewish Bride by Rembrandt

A recent visit to the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam compelled me to rework an old painting. It was the Rembrandts that did it.
I painted my self-portrait “Halo” during a particularly difficult time in my life. I had become the carer for my terminally ill partner. People praised me for my fortitude, but I was aware of a disparity between how people saw me and how I truly felt. Deep down there was an awful darkness; a sense of despair. I tried to recreate this sense in a painting, but wasn’t completely successful.

detail from the painting halo
detail from reworked painting

Anyway, fast forward to March this year, and I had  a splendid time visiting Amsterdam and studying the Rembrandts at the Rijksmuseum. Although there’s a very good selection of Rembrandts to be seen in London, I was captivated by the examples in Amsterdam – some really fine late Rembrandts. I could stare at them for hours. I marvel at the detail he could suggest in the shadows, with such economy. And there was such a sadness in those eyes.
In looking at these wonderful paintings by the great master of portraiture, I felt a desire to revisit one of my earlier self-portraits: “Halo”.

Halo, revised version

I didn’t undertake many changes. Basically I added a few more layers of glaze, but this time I was a bit looser in the application and removal.  It is easy to fall into the trap of becoming too precious when applying glazes. It’s the final stage, and the underpainting might have taken many hours to complete, so there’s an obvious reluctance to mess it up with a sloppy final layers. But looking at those old Rembrandts, what struck me is the spontaneity of the most beautiful passages in his paintings. He wasn’t afraid of messing them up.

The Art of Grieving, and how art saved me

painting by peter d'alessandri describing bereavement and loss

I recently came across a call for artists for The Art of Grieving exhibition in 2022. This immediately caught my attention and I sent them a photo of the above painting. When they asked for “a description of the circumstances in which it was created or the inspiration behind its creation” I sat down and wrote the following for them:

I lost my partner Veronica to a long term illness on Christmas Eve 2009. What I remember most from the period leading up to Veronica’s death, apart from the constant state of physical and mental exhaustion, was the increasing sense of loneliness, as friends called on us less frequently and we slowly withdrew from the world.
After her passing, there was just this dark void – a sense of emptiness. For a few months I felt compelled to paint her. I was trying to preserve my memory of her before it faded; I have never worked so hard. I completed three paintings, and then felt myself falling into the void again. I started this painting, but didn’t manage to finish it before I gave up painting.
It was a few years before I returned to painting, but it wasn’t until 2019 that I felt able to return to this particular painting. It only needed a few touches to finish it. It had been finished all along, it was just that I had not been able to look at it for all that time.

I was surprised at just how upset I became in trying to recall that period over ten years ago. It got me thinking about that dark time in my life; how I got through it and the life choices I made in the process.

oil painting portrait of Veronica, winner of the Frank Todman award

The carer.
For a long while I was “the carer”. I can’t remember when this role began. It started innocently, with a friendly request by Veronica to accompany her to her hospital appointment, and then years later I had fully joined the battle. By then everything else was put aside – work, art, socialising, holidays – as Veronica and I focused on trying to get the best treatment for her illness, and monitored her declining health. And in the end, when she was less able, it was left to me alone to make all the decisions. It was scary, and very lonely.
The bereaved.
For the longest time I felt broken. After an initial frenzy of activity, where I finished those paintings that I had planned when Veronica was still alive, I then entered a prolonged period of emptiness. I lived on autopilot. I did not know what I was going to do, but I did know that I could not return to my old life pre-carer. All those things I had worked so hard for didn’t seem to matter anymore.

oil painting by peter d'alessandri. relationships series
Relationships Series No.4

The artist.
I remember the day that art saved me. A friend had offered to pose for a portrait, which had slowly stirred me from my stupor. But then, after I had gone to the trouble of buying a canvas and setting everything up, they casually said they had changed their mind. When I complained to them, they couldn’t understand why I was so upset, and just said “it’s more important to you than it is to me”. And that was the moment I realised, yes, this portrait was very important to me. Just the anticipation of it was exciting. It wasn’t just this portrait though. It was art. It gave me a purpose and made me feel alive again. Within a year I had thrown away my furniture to use my lounge as a studio, and a few years later I sold my house so that I could afford a studio.

Art and Death

man on bed

The painting above has been selected for the “Art and Death” exhibition, organised and curated by Huunuu. 
“The gallery shows artwork from 19 different artists who have all interpreted the subject of death, dying, bereavement and legacy.”
As virtual exhibitions go, this works very well.  It has been well curated – There’s a nice selection of good quality artworks, which are all related to the theme. It’s well worth a visit, and can be found at

Open Studio 2018

Well, this years open studio event at Leegate House has been and gone. Many thanks to those that made the journey to this little corner of southeast London. Thankfully the heatwave abated, just for the day, and we didn’t all melt in our studios.

These open studios events are a prerequisite for studio providers to maintain their charitable status – to demonstrate they’re “engaging with the community”. In my experience, many studio providers will only make a token effort, and most artists will see it as an inconvenience.
I’m pleased to say that Bow Arts treated this event with a lot more enthusiasm than some other studio providers I’ve been involved with; as did most of the artists here in Leegate House – it was the most enjoyable open studio that I’ve taken part in. Some of the nicest conversations I had were with local people who’d seen a flyer in the local Sainsburys, and thought “I must go along to that”. I spend most of my time locked away alone in this room on the fifth floor. It’s actually quite nice opening the doors to the public once a year.