The Sitter's Tale: From the Scottish National Portrait Gallery: the film-maker has become a character in one of Steven Campbell's stories

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Steven and I have been friends for a long time. We met in the mid-1980s in New York; we were both expat Glaswegians with young families - my son was born in Manhattan - and both at interesting points in our careers at that time, and we bonded quite strongly. I feel closer to him than I do to most film-makers - I don't want to sound pretentious, but we relate as artists. If I'm talking to other film-makers, I'll end up talking about practical things, fees, budgets; but with Steven we can cut straight through to the fundamentals, the perennials, the universals.

In the early 1990s he phoned me up and asked me if he could do my portrait. The gallery had a list of Scottish worthies, and I wasn't on it, but Steven wanted to do me, so I rapidly got put on. I asked if he wanted me to sit and he was noncommital: then a good few months later, the kids and I tramped along to his studio to see what he was up to. The disconcerting thing was, he had nine or 10 painted sketches of my head strewn all over the floor. He asked me which one I liked best - I don't know if he was allowing me to choose or offering me the illusion that I was allowed to choose. But anyway, I picked the nicest, sweetest, most enigmatic one. And I think we saw a roughly sketched-out canvas, but that was as much as I saw until it was finished.

I'm very taken with Steven's work. I like it, I have a large one here beside me as I work. I didn't try to see myself in the painting - I didn't feel desperately personal about it, I wasn't assessing it in an egotistical way. I don't feel it's me so much as that Steven has put me in one of his stories.

But I was touched to see that my children are in it. And the setting - me peeking out from behind the tree - that feeling of being at the margins of a city, what Apollinaire called "the Zone" - is a real preoccupation of mine, it's something quite personal, and I'm always going back to it in my own work. I don't remember ever talking to Steven about it, but he seemed to know about it anyway.


Steven Campbell's 1995 portrait hangs in the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, Edinburgh (0131 624 6200).

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