Welsh artist given Cannes access to Hollywood stars

Portraits of some of Hollywood’s best-known actors ­feature in a star-studded new ­exhibition.

Dan Llwelyn Hall portrait of Woody Allen. Picture: PA
Dan Llwelyn Hall portrait of Woody Allen. Picture: PA

Dan Llywelyn Hall was granted unprecedented access to Tinseltown’s biggest names after being made the first artist-in-residence at the Cannes Festival earlier this year.

He was given the kind of creative freedom most directors could only dream of after being able to pick and choose which A-listers he wanted to work with.

Sign up to our World Explained newsletter

The 34-year-old got up close and personal with legends including Woody Allen, Sir Michael Caine, Gerard Depardieu, Cate Blanchett and Colin Farrell during one-hour sittings.

Sir Michael Caine. Picture: PA

But the Welshman’s uncompromising style – which saw him divide opinion for his gritty 2013 portrait of the Queen – refused to pander to stars’ egos and aimed to show them at their most real and vulnerable.

He said: “Actors are so often so stage-managed and guarded about who they really are – and even when you first meet people that you have seen on the screen you have a preconception of who you think they are – as if you almost know them.

“But I tried to leave that baggage at the door and look for the moment when they dropped their guard and you got to see that moment of perhaps who they really are or a sense of their personality.

“I liked the idea of being able to show another side to these big stars that people usually wouldn’t get to see – that they are fallible like the rest of us.

Cate Blanchett. Picture: PA

“So many portraits of famous people are stifled and boring.

“We are so used to seeing mannequined images of people and looking at them in a way through rose-tinted specs.

“Painting should do the opposite of things like Instagram – it should observe a truth that doesn’t gloss over things.”

Mr Llywelyn Hall, who was born in Barry and now lives in London, said two actors who stood out for him were Sir Michael and Allen.

“I liked Woody Allen because he was not an actor and was not self conscious at all – he was more about ideas. One of the things I particularly remember of his sitting is him telling me ‘life is meaningless, but when you are creative you have something to distract you’.

“Michael Caine was also interesting because he was so animated and mused about youth.”

Among his favourite works from his Cannes collection is his portrait of Oscar-winner Blanchett, which was done at a press conference while the star faced questions from journalists about whether she was bisexual.

Before the film festival, Blanchett was quoted in Variety magazine as saying she had had “many” past relationships with women.

“She looked incredibly awkward about the questions she was facing and it was that moment of vulnerability that I wanted to capture,” added Mr Llywelyn Hall.

“I quite liked the portrait of Gerard Depardieu too – because he had just completely blown his top with his agent en route to a press conference and I wanted to show that fiery side of him.”

He described the process of working with some of film’s biggest stars as a completely surreal.

“It felt like an out-of-body experience, in a way – like I was a spectator and not really there,” he added. “It was, of course, a massive privilege, but you can’t let yourself think that at the time and you’ve got to focus on the job.”

Beyond The Red Carpet runs at Staffords Gallery, Cecil Court, London until 6 July.