An artist has pledged to paint portraits of every single resident in Britain’s smallest city, having already spent 10 years on the project.
Grahame Hurd-Wood has completed just under 900 portraits of people in St Davids, Haverfordwest, Wales, and hopes to eventually paint around 1,600 portraits, saying he will aim to do so even if the project takes him another 20 years.
The project began when he painted his fiancee, Debbie Best, 10 years ago before she died aged 42 from cancer, and she suggested extending the work to paint everyone living in the town.
“The idea of the city of portraits came to fruition as an inspiration,” he said.
He had completed 80 portraits for another project and then they discussed the idea of a “city of portraits”.
He said he hoped that the project would be a legacy for both Ms Best and the city itself.
In 2013 he had completed 112 portraits. He told The Telegraph that some portraits could take up to eight hours as he aimed to build a personal connection with each sitter.
“The longest ones have taken about eight hours of an 87-year-old gentleman who’s unfortunately passed away now but he sat and talked about his life so each portrait is a facet of someone’s character.
“I’m getting to know people in a sort of ephemeral way about their personality and for me it’s been really how one deals with loss and bereavement.
“It kicked off about 10 years ago when I painted my fiancee, Debbie. She said the city of St Davids is not that big, not massive – it wavers from 1,600 to 1,800 people.
“It’s a never ending project because I enjoy doing them so much.
“The portrait I did of her I gave to her mother and father. She definitely will be part of the St Davids group, it’s very much in my heart. She left a powerful legacy of, ‘just get on with it’.”
“Each portrait keeps her memory going. It’s not negative, you can believe people are still around, maybe gone to a better place, who knows. The place she’s gone to is in my head.”
He added that there were one or two people who “can’t handle the idea of being painted but 99 per cent of the people just adore the idea”.
He said he did not plan to stop the project no matter how long it took.
“I’m in my sixties now so hopefully I have another 20 years. Monet was painting until his last breath and hopefully I’ll be the same.
“You don’t have a portrait done every day. Somebody used the expression treasured, that they felt treasured, felt about, it’s a feelgood factor on both sides really.”
Mr Hurd-Wood said that he hoped to project images of the portraits on the side of the local cathedral as part of an interim exhibition of the first thousand completed portraits for next year.
“To have the images on the cathedral for the locals round here would be a fascinating event actually,” he said.
He added that local residents had been very positive about the idea of sitting for their portraits, and that he encouraged sitters not to be completely still but to talk with him so that they looked more like themselves.
“‘We’re really proud of you bach [dear],’ this old lady said, and that meant a lot to me,” he said.
Ms Best had been his tattoo artist and he fell in love with her.
He said he went back for more tattoos, “just on my arms” but added “all memories about my mum, she loved the song Let’s Go to San Francisco”.
Ms Best did his tattoo of the lyrics with hummingbirds around it. He has since had tattoos relating to memories of Ms Best and her interest in spirituality and angels.
She had a crew of Hell’s Angels at her funeral, prompting the vicar to say “probably the first time you’ve been in this establishment”.