Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland artist waves flag for Meghan as he unveils stunning £3k portrait

Artist Jonathan Aiken with his Duchess of Sussex painting
Artist Jonathan Aiken with his Duchess of Sussex painting
Meghan, Duchess of Sussex
A detail of 101 Expressions, featuring NI legends including George Best and Van Morrison
Claire McNeilly

By Claire McNeilly

She's the most photographed woman in the world at present — and she could be about to become the most painted one, too.

A fascinating portrait of the Duchess of Sussex by a contemporary Northern Ireland artist is on sale at Gormleys Fine Art in south Belfast for £3,000.

The piece, measuring 32 by 24 inches, is painted in oils on reclaimed wood and in just a week has become one of the most popular exhibits at the Lisburn Road gallery.

Artist Jonathan Aiken told the Belfast Telegraph that Meghan Markle became his muse because he admires the bold decisions she has made to get where she is.

And although he is aware of some bad press, most recently over her baby shower, he admitted that he didn’t “know anything” about the former actress “until she got here”.

“Meghan of Sussex is a new piece that’s been done in the past month,” the 53-year-old said.

“I know she was very famous in her career, but I didn’t even watch Suits (the TV programme in which she starred).

“It’s just through arriving here that she’s become an obvious subject for respecting because of what she has done and the statement she made.

“She’s translated herself from America into the establishment. It’s a huge step and I respect that. She’s gone the complete extreme inverse of where she came from.”

He added: “Obviously she’s changed everything in her life. She was both prepared and courageous enough to do that.

“No matter what you do in life, if you’re on the stage you are a target. It’s impossible to bring everybody with you, but she was prepared to move.”

Jonathan, who lives in Kells, Co Antrim, and has been painting for the last 27 years, said he now “only paints when I’ve a reason to paint” and revealed he has “been working on iconic themes for the last decade”.

To get Meghan right, he “looked at loads of images” of the 37-year-old television star from Los Angeles, who, in the spring, is expecting her first child with husband Prince Harry.

As the artist behind a montage called 101 Expressions — which features small portraits of icons including the late DUP and Sinn Fein politicians Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness, singer and songwriter Van Morrison and actress Marilyn Monroe — Jonathan is no stranger to painting faces. Perhaps surprisingly, he admitted that it is harder to paint people who are flawless than those who are not, adding that: “It’s probably harder because of the starting point!” Jonathan, who is married to homemaker Judith, with whom he has three children — Holly (24), Lauren (22) and Jack (17) — chose to centre the portrait of Meghan on a Union flag background. “I just think she has left the American flag behind,” he said.

He said his future work will include “nods to where people have come from and where they have gone to” adding: “Just to put their identity on a wall as it were, the flag being Meghan’s wall.”

The Duchess of Sussex is the first of Jonathan’s royal subjects.

It’s also the first time he has undertaken a project which isn’t a bespoke commission, as he says that he is “creating a new type of artwork for a wider audience”.

Gerard Gormley, who owns the gallery that has been representing Jonathan for almost 15 years, said he admires his work for two reasons.

“Firstly, his dedication to sourcing the perfect material to complement his artwork, whether it be reclaimed wood, stainless steel, a red leather coat, an airplane window or even a kitchen sink,” he said.

“Secondly, his unwavering attention to detail when painting.

“His latest piece features a painted image of Meghan against a backdrop of the Union Jack in a delicate pastel tone.

“He uses the natural grain of the wood to subtly highlight two sides of Meghan.

“Possibly in reference to her old life as Meghan Markle, actress and now that of Her Royal Highness the Duchess of Sussex.”

Another framed portrait of Meghan made waves at the Brit Awards on Wednesday night when it appeared in Beyonce and Jay Z’s acceptance video for their Best International Artist award in a tribute to her bi-racial heritage.

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