Recently I shared a close-up of one eye from this portrait and asked “What do you see when you look at this eye?” The eye is of my oil painting of Hillman Curtis.

Knowledge, sad, thoughtful, close-up of eye oil portrait Hillman Curtis
Karin Merx, 2012, Close-up eye, Hillman Curtis Portrait, oil on canvas.

I received numerous answers, and all based on their own perception, which is perfectly fine. One of my followers was spot on. She mentioned that she saw thoughtfulness, sad and knowledge. I shared the story behind this portrait privately with her. She convinced me it was a story that needed to be shared.

Let me tell you why she was spot on. Let me tell you the story behind this portrait.
It has been about 9 years ago that I painted this portrait of Hillman Curtis. I reached out and asked if he agreed painting a portrait of him. He said something like: ‘sure, could I ask you something though?’ I said: “sure.” So he asked me to prepare something nice for his wife and him after the design conference. So I did, I wrote him about it and was also really excited to meet him and of course to show the portrait if I had finished it or at least in the state it was.

The date of the conference came nearer, I looked on the website for speakers and times and noticed that Hillman Curtis had cancelled. I felt disappointed and I wrote him. He replied telling me that he was too weak to come. He was terminally ill. I had no idea, but felt a shock going through me. I was in the finishing states of his portrait. The last brushstroke was set on the day he’s passed, at least on the day we all were notified he’d passed via social media.

Two other strange things happened. First I received a mail from his former girlfriend in the 80ties who happened to live in Amsterdam. And she told me that Hillman’s sister had seen the portrait and was so taken aback because he looked exactly like her brother.

The portrait I made, captured exactly what my follower had seen in that one eye only.

What do you feel when you look at this portrait?

The Story Behind the Portrait of Hillman Curtis