Kristin Scott Thomas is barefoot, dressed in mannish trousers and an untucked shirt, sitting on the wooden floor of a Paris studio. The portrait artist Christian Hook is next to her on a chair, his head resting against the wall. They have been chatting quietly and are now laughing. I interrupt and ask them to look at my camera.
Hook had flown in the previous day from India, where he had been painting the Maharajah of Jodhpur. In stark contrast to his Indian welcome, which included 10 painted dancing elephants and a spectacular firework display, we met at King’s Cross Eurostar terminal, having just missed our train. Equally inauspicious was our late arrival at the modest Paris café where we had arranged to meet Scott Thomas, but her warm greeting put us at our ease, and the artist and his new muse began to get to know each other.
Scott Thomas had first expressed interest in working with How To Spend It magazine after seeing our rakish, theatrical 10-page monochrome fashion shoot with John Hurt in 2016. She and the late actor shared a publicist, and she told him that she wanted to do something similar, something unexpected and a little off-the-wall.
I had followed both their careers very closely. Like Scott Thomas, Hook is a person whose work moves me. I watched as he triumphed on the 2014 series of Sky Arts Portrait Artist of the Year, and subsequently as he has worked, always very collaboratively, with the likes of Alan Cumming, Ian McKellen, Amir Khan and Mick Hucknall. And then it struck me. What would happen if I were to put Hook and Scott Thomas together as artist and muse?
The artist-muse relationship has always fascinated me: the interplay of influence and inspiration, power and passion. What drives an artist to want to paint someone over and over again? What compels a muse to sit for hundreds of hours for the same artist? And could Scott Thomas and Hook conjure up the intensity of this relationship in just a matter of hours?
During the shoot, I watch as Hook stands before a canvas and begins to paint. He holds the brush by the very tip of its long handle and daubs the canvas at arm’s length. It is magical to witness the abstract forms take shape and capture the very essence of who she is. I can tell Scott Thomas thinks so too, by the way she smiles as she looks at this reflection of herself.
Later on, as Scott Thomas sits on the floor, she laces her arm through Hook’s and rests it on his leg. He leans towards her, resting his head against the wall. They laugh. I press the camera shutter, taking just one frame. It’s all I need. I know I have captured a moment, a moment when two strangers suddenly click.
After the shoot, Hook gifts Scott Thomas the portrait. I'd like to think that this is just the beginning of their artist-muse relationship.