Fionn Wilson

On a portrait of Christine Keeler by painter Fionn Wilson

In Britain, Christine Keeler is an icon. It's been decades since the Profumo Affair, but ever since, the youthful face of Christine Keeler as she looked back then, has been synonymous with political scandal and intrigue. Keeler herself has had to pay dearly for it, her public image being frozen in time like that, and she has spent the last many years just trying to be left alone, avoiding the press. She's lived and she's aged, but the face of Christine Keeler that became part of British culture, perhaps most famously through the black and white photos taken by Lewis Morley, remains the same. And how do you paint such a face? How do you paint a face that's been hijacked by the public, turned into a sign, and which comes with so much talk and so many agendas, so much history – in order to get to something personal and authentic? 

The answer, actually, is an easy one. There is only one thing that will cut through the – quoting the Danish expressionist painter Jens Søndergaard – ”nonsense of the outside world” and let things breathe anew, and that is love. And Fionn Wilson loves Christine Keeler. It's obvious from her portraits. The Christine Keeler portrait below doesn't show us a political figure or an icon, but a vulnerable and real woman with a slightly wounded look. She's not really looking out, she's looking in, caught in a moment of self-reflection. In that sense, it can be said to be a mirror image. A painting about reflection.

Fionn Wilson's painting, especially with reference to her early work, is spectral. Her work encompasses a variety of subjects, including portraits, landscapes and still life, but what most of her paintings share is a certain quality, as if she had dragged them out of a Claude glass. As if they were light. She paints with light, like light in a mirror, and spectral painting seems a very apt term for it. But also, as in this particular portrait of Christine Keeler, many of Wilson's paintings deal with the emotional spectres that haunt us and feelings of loss, abandonment and isolation – and the upsurge of a life force, sexuality, which she also paints as a kind of light breaking through and taking shape, usually the shape of a woman.

In many ways Christine Keeler is the perfect motif for Fionn Wilson. Even before the Profumo Affair Keeler had experienced more than a fair share of hardship, and since the scandal she has become isolated, forced to live with her ghosts. She was just a young woman when John Profumo was forced to resign, and she was hurt. At the same time, however, Keeler was also a powerful and somewhat rebellious figure, sexual and with an attitude. It is almost like Christine Keeler has herself become a prism for Fionn Wilson, showing us all the levels on which she meditates on light and reflection in her painting. In one portrait we see one side of Keeler, in another we see a different side – and when seen together, they strangely mirror each other. What appears is a faceted image of a real woman, not a cultural icon, or just a victim, or just a sex symbol, but a person. Which is what love does, it lets the person come forth.

Bo Gorzelak Pedersen,
Art critic for the Danish art paper Kunstavisen