Jul 13, 2022

“Their personalities never change”: Teenage artists take on centenarian portraits

“Their personalities never change”: Teenage artists take on centenarian portraits

Year 12 student Hannah Bereny talked to her 101-year-old portrait subject, Alice Peacock, over zoom in their initial meetings because Alice’s aged care home was in lockdown due to covid.

Hannah was painting a portrait of Alice for The Centenarian Portrait Project by Teenagers, an initiative aiming to create intergenerational friendships between Australian centenarians and young, emerging artists.

“She was having a difficult time,” Hannah told HelloCare. “She was locked in there.”

But even online, as soon as the two began talking, Alice was interested in Hannah and became more animated. “She was lovely. She called me gorgeous. She was very bright,” said Hannah.

Hannah, with an artist’s eye, also observed Alice’s love of colour. She always wore vivid hues – “purple cardigans and bright scarves”, Hannah said.

In her room, when Hannah was finally allowed to visit in person, Alice displayed art, pillows and china in “earthy” and “warm” colours featuring natural motifs such as plants and animals.

Hannah, who is studying art for the HSC and is a keen portraitist, wanted to capture Alice’s appreciation of colour and her “joyful” spirit, so she used oil paint to create blocks of pure colour for the background, a style she described as ‘impressionist’. 

Hannah used a spatula to apply the paint for the background, but a paintbrush to paint the finer detail of the figure of Alice.

“I did the background with a spatula to make it chunky and thick so I could bring the focus to Alice but still have a pretty background,” Hannah explained.

The birds and colour in the background represent the natural imagery of the objects Hannah observed in Alice’s room.

Though Alice usually didn’t remember Hannah from sitting to sitting, the two were still able to enjoy their time together.

At one meeting, Alice thought Hannah was her as a younger person, until a kind nurse explained Hannah was there to paint her portrait.

The experience of getting to know Alice was “beautiful”, Hannah said. “I definitely had a grasp of who she was and I thought that was lovely. I loved the experience.”

Hannah’s art teacher encouraged her to enter The Centenarian Portrait Project by Teenagers because she has a keen interest in portraiture.

“I was a bit unsure to begin with because I’m in year 12 and I didn’t want too much workload. But I ended up doing it because [my teacher] said that it would look good in my portfolio if I want to pursue art – and I really enjoy art,” said Hannah.

“And I was also really quite interested in being able to meet a centenarian and really excited to see other young artists paint. 

“I don’t tend to paint people who are older, and this was a great experience for me to broaden my painting type.”

Hannah has learnt about painting, but she has also broadened the way she thinks about older people – and we all have her beautiful work to enjoy while we contemplate what it means to live to 100.

The SA Centenarian Project recently ran from 21–30 June 2022 in Adelaide, and the WA Centenarian Project is currently doing a call out for artist participants. 

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