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A closer look

Raph with bass

Oil on canvas, 127cm x 101.5cm

Raph with Bass

I painted this portrait of Raphael Mizraki in 2006. Raph is an incredibly talented musician who can play an astonishing range of instruments in a wide range of musical genres. His main instrument is the double bass, closely followed by the oud, an Arabian string instrument that is the ancestor of the European lute. Raph is probably best known for his associations with The Dufay Collective and The Carnival Band.

As a craftsman his skills are also awesome. I remember once giving him a particularly fine piece of timber (walnut if I remember rightly), and within the space of about a week he’d turned it into a particularly fine rebec (a medieval stringed instrument), complete with an authentic hand-carved gargoyle head to the peg box on the end but with an inauthentic pair of glasses on it. The head also had a swivelling joint so that ‘Delbert decibel’, his name for the beast, could face the audience whichever side of the stage Raph stood on during concerts.

Raph is one of many professional musician friends I have. Musicians and what they do captivate me. The arcane ability of a fine musician to touch the heart is something that is deeply mysterious and hypnotic. My aim with this portrait was to capture the spirit of the man and at the same time pay homage to his art with my art.


I tried to describe the sonority of his beautiful instrument and something of the qualities of his concentration and benign communicative presence. His natural stance is full of restrained energy; his ever-mobile hands move with an unerring fluidity. My task was to arrange these elements into a satisfying composition. As with so many of my paintings, the composition is based on a central anchor or motif, in this case Raph himself. Each element links with another. I’ve positioned the fingerboard so that it is vertical and parallel to the central axis, making the image both restful and dynamic at the same time. In the background, around the centre of the painting, an abstract swirl of colour both compliments and invigorates the colours and shapes of the foreground. The background also has shapes that echo the implied counter-clockwise direction of his arms. Paintings, like music, like our bodies, need a heartbeat. On the top left of the painting there is an inscription taken from a 17th century harpsichord, it reads ‘Musica Letitae Comes Medicina Dolorum’ - music; companion of joy, cure for sorrow.