The Sitter's tale: James MacMillan

What it's like to have your portrait painted: the Scottish composer finds his love of football reflected in one of Calum Colvin's extraordinary 3-D creations
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The Independent Culture
W hen Calum Colvin first described how he wanted to portray me, I must say it didn't make much sense. But then I went away and studied his work, and I began to understand what it was all about. First he came to my studio in Glasgow to take photographs of me. Then he built a set that incorporated a collection of objects from my life. There are various things: a metronome, a bell, a crucifix, some icons, even a couple of tickets to a Celtic-Sporting Lisbon match - I'm a lifelong Celtic supporter. I think Calum thought I was quite a serious character, and that it was leavening to have my interest in football reflected in the work.

Once the set was created, he somehow managed to paint my portrait on to it. Then he photographed the whole thing. It's an incredible feat, and there's something strangely alluring about it. There's a window in the set, which is where my forehead is, and through the window you can see a photograph of me. The whole is a complex image which evokes a lot of the priorities in my life, and gradually you are drawn into it. It's been a revelation. When my father saw it he remarked on my eyes - they were just like my mother's.

The portrait was used on the cover of the programme for my opera Ines de Castro when it was premiered at Scottish Opera in 1996. The opera was dedicated to the memory of Sir Alexander Gibson, and Lady Gibson unveiled the portrait at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery. There was a fanfare played that I'd composed. It was a lovely occasion.


James MacMillan's 'Quickening', a setting of poems by Michael Symmons Roberts for choir and orchestra, has its world premiere at the Proms this evening.

Calum Colvin's 1996 portrait hangs in the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, Edinburgh (0131 624 6200)