Portrait of Michael Marra 2017

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“In 2017 Colvin completed his second study of the Dundee-based singer and songwriter, the Portrait of Michael Marra.

When Colvin came to reflect upon the qualities of his subject, he gathered together the public and the private Marra in a paean to his gifts and his personality.

The mise-en-scène is created in a dilapidated interior, part sitting room and part wooden shed. The portrait itself is painted across the floor, a rudimentary chair, a makeshift box-table and the background set. Resting on the chair, and painted as the subject’s mouth, is a guitar. On the guitar, a carpenter’s saw can just be identified, a play on Marra’s inimitable rasping voice. Marra is seen dressed in a rough jumper and wearing a beret. Surrounding this portrait is a host of references that distill the talents and interests of the sitter.”

(Tom Normand 2020)

A few years after the sad passing of Michael Marra in 2012, I decided I would like to pay tribute to this old friend and iconic Dundee bard with a portrait work, which I planned to exhibit in my upcoming exhibition ‘Museography’ at The McManus Galleries in Dundee. A few years earlier, in 2011 I had been involved in a V&A at Dundee project, again at The McManus called ‘A Portrait for the Future’ a masterclass described below by Louise Valentine:

“The V&A Dundee Masterclass was designed with innovation at its heart so as to offer participants a stimulating and challenging experience. It was hosted by Calum Colvin who achieved international recognition for his innovative approach to portraiture over the last decade and, who is acknowledged as a leader in his field of digital photography. Using heritage as a starting point for conceptualizing imagery that tells their story, Calum builds a portrait using objects and perspective to give an image that embraces the individual’s unique personality. This innovative approach to photography formed the basis of the masterclass which also used humor, advanced photographic technology and, lighting to experiment and create portraits for the digital future. The subject for the Portraiture masterclass was singer Michael Marra, who was one of Scotland’s most prolific songwriters.”

Event Poster
images by Louise Valentine
Final work created by the team.

I knew Michael quite well, having met him in London many years ago, during the tour of his ‘A Wee Home From Home’ with choreographer Frank McConnell and director Gerry Mulgrew. We kept in touch over the years and I made the photograph below for his album ‘Candy Philosophy’ in 1993. Michael was great company, and a wonderful storyteller. We had some great nights out with some surreal and hilarious banter!

‘Candy Philosophy’

An image from the photo shoot with Michael

working with a small team we invited invited Michael in for a photo session, selected an image and created an installation/portrait – all in the space of a week!

As intense and fun as this experience was, I nevertheless wanted to make a more personal and considered portrait of Michael without the time constraint, and the ‘Museography’ exhibition at the McManus provided the impetus. I used one of the photographs from the original photo session (I have no idea if I took the image or not, we all shared the same Hasselblad digital camera and took turns during the session) as the basis for the portrait. This coincided with James Robertson writing a biography of Michael “Michael Marra: Arrest this Moment” (Big Sky Press 2017), and I was delighted to supply the cover picture.

Images from the photo shoot with Michael

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