I went to visit Patrick at his home, Eagles Nest, in March 1995 for him to make some pre- liminary drawings. On the last evening, both of us reluctant, I sat to be drawn. I recognised an anxiety before the blank paper which corresponds to the writer's anxiety before the blank page - only in the case of a portrait, this anxiety is doubled, both sitter and artist are anxious. Patrick suddenly began to scribble furiously, with charcoal, and there, from nowhere, was a presence, a shadowy solid person with a blank face, but recognisably myself.
I did not go back to Eagles Nest for over a year. Patrick said, quite suddenly and decisively, it is time to try strong primary colours. He made a sitting figure in cobalt blue, and painted in and out a series of complex blue patterns and scribbles and zigzags on the body.
When it was finished, I did not know what to think for a moment. We both stared. I had a curious experience of it settling into shape, becoming itself, as I looked at it. The energy, the brashness, the uncompromising splashes of primary colour represented what I had wanted in an abstract portrait by a great colourist. But they represented something else as well. They were a painting of the writer, of how I feel when I start work, a vanishing, watching body in a sea of light and brilliance.
BY A S BYATT 1999
A S Byatt is a novelist. Her 1997 portrait by Patrick Heron hangs in the National Portrait Gallery, London, WC2 (0171 306 0055).Reuse content