Charles as a guest speaker on silhouettes

Booking a silhouettist guest speaker

YOU MIGHT ASSUME that the market for guest speakers on silhouettes would occupy the tiniest of niches in a niche of the already niche market for speaker about art! Yet silhouettes touch a deep nerve in all of us.

The simple art of the silhouette portrait possesses a surprising universality which seems far from niche. Everybody can find themselves surprised and delighted by a simple silhouette.

The European Art of the Silhouette

In the midst of the referendum debate I would often draw attention to the European Art of the Silhouette. The word silhouette itself has an obviously European ring to it. Every so often I’m asked to appear as a guest speaker, speaking about silhouettes, their origins and history. These engagements are a real joy for me and can make a welcome change from cutting. They give me a chance to share some of my research into my lost, but once-very-international art.

With this in mind I have produced a short video clip to give a flavour of what I hope may be a new direction for me:

I am open to suggestions about the kind of events at which a guest speaker on silhouettes might work. Past clients include a WI dinner, various art and literary societies and (rather surprisingly) a family party. The video shows sequences from a talk we staged in my studio: “From Shadowgraph screens to Portrait Machines” during the making of the film. I see this working at a wide range of dinners, conferences, cruises and other events.

John Miers introducing Charles Burns as a silhouette guest speaker
A pair of silhouette by John Miers, who claimed to paint these after a one-minute sitting. His silhouettes were painted onto small plaster slabs, using a mixture of beer and soot!

The Talk

My talk will consist of stories about notable silhouettists of the past, such as that of the French immigrant August Edouart, a refugee from the Napoleonic wars, who brought the French word “silhouette” into the English language. (I find myself wondering, what would he have made of our current debate over membership of a European Union?) It will be illustrated by my own interpretations of these artist’s work, cut on the spot as I speak and using an audience member as a model.

Optionally, I can bring a small exhibition of antique silhouettes – or even illustrate the talk with slides – however, the emphasis will be on the stories themselves and the silhouettes I can make on the day. The silhouettes and the stories which accompany them tell their own story. Silhouette cutting has always been a quintessentially European art. 

Man with wing-collar shirt

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