I’ve been watching the TV series ‘Anh’s Brush with Fame’. If you haven’t seen it, it is a half hour of Anh Do, who’s a well-known comedian and until now lesser-known painter, invites other well-know Australians to sit for him as he paints their portrait. What I find striking about the program is Anh Do himself – he is amazing.
Anh shows himself to be a fabulous artist not only with the palette knife, He is also a fabulous artist in the art of paying attention – inquiring, listening and seeing.
He asks quite simple questions about a person’s life, from childhood to the present, the kind of questions anyone might ask when meeting some one for the first time. It’s the way he attends to the answers that has struck me as being extraordinary. When the camera pans over from his subject to him you see an intense empathy and compassion emanating from his eyes. When the recollection is funny he throws back his head in laughter, when it is tragic, as many are, his eyes fill with tears. He is not a trained interviewer and this seems to make a difference, he wears his heart on his sleeve and then pours all that into a painting.
I’m a bit of an art snob, I declare it, and I was skeptical that a comedian could really paint. I thought that Anh would fall into the Rolf Harris ‘painting on television’ category, clever but a bit glib. How wrong I was. Anh’s portraiture is all that people painting should be. It’s not photographic, rather in the wild sweeps of oil Anh captures deep emotion, frailty, strength, hurts and joys, all in one picture. When the portraits are revealed to the subjects the reactions vary, but mostly they are stunned by what of themselves is reflected back to them. What Anh has seen of their beautiful humanness.
Before watching this week’s episode, I had been brewing about an article I read about the nature of God. A woman had written about losing the God she had grown up with – the white-Zeus man, living-over-me God – and the journey of pain this resulted in. As I watched Anh Do I couldn’t help but feel that he is a better reflection of God, which I think would embarrass him immensely. But the ability to encounter and enter into a person’s life with compassion and joy and then reflect a person’s beauty back to them is the character of God that I hold onto most strongly.