Terence McKenna

Zoe Wanamaker

Lady.co.uk was delighted to be recently invited to visit and view the remarkable work of the artist Terence McKenna. 

Terence McKenna’s portraits are warm and intimate studies of character and personality. His subjects are drawn from all ages and walks of life and include many actors as well as writers, dancers and other people connected with the arts.
His work has recently been the subject of a major exhibition of portraits at The Royal Opera Arcade Gallery, Pall Mall in 2018. Among others, the exhibition featured portraits of actors, Ray Winstone, Zoë Wanamaker and Roger Lloyd Pack.
Terence originally studied at The Central School of Speech and Drama but subsequently pursued a career in illustration. Terence lives with his partner, Theatre Practitioner Miranda Jaquarello, who he met at drama school, and together they maintain and develop a fifteen-acre woodland conservation project in rural North Norfolk.

Ray Winstone

‘The landscape of the human face is probably the most fascinating landscape on earth…it is endlessly interesting.’

Working with a subject

Terence spends a good amount of time with the people he paints over an afternoon or two, sitting and chatting and observing them in their own homes in a comfortable manner. He takes around 1000 photographs during this time, in order to capture the character and position of the subject for the painting. The photographs work as a kind of observational template for the resulting painting but they don’t capture the vibrancy of that living individual; this is something Terence creates in his portraits. It’s a two-way process in which Terence feels he must be as open as he can with the people he paints. This method ensures the subjects are relaxed and gives Terence an opportunity to build rapport and therefore enable a deeper connection, which in turn he recreates through the painting. 

Jehane Markham and Roger Lloyd-Pack

‘I work from photographs because it’s impossible for people to give me the time I need. To do the work well I have to spend a limitless amount of time on each painting.’‘I select a photo as a basis to work from. It’s probably more organic than it sounds because when I’m with them I am absolutely absorbing everything from them. It’s really important that I’m open and vulnerable and prepared to talk about myself as well.’

Lydia Azzopardi

An organic process

During the creation of each painting Terence is completely immersed and isn’t dictated by time constraints or a structured process. Terence has a naturally observant understanding of human behaviour, seeing people completely as they are both physically, in their surroundings, and emotionally, through watching and subsequently noting and marking every detail of their expression and the way the light hits their skin. Through this intensely detailed observation and depiction of every tired crag, blemish or twist of skin settled over the features, Terence captures in each of his subjects the exactly correct expressions of sadness, anxiety, joy or hope written in their eyes. He captures their souls. 

‘You never quite know how long a painting will take to do, or feel it’s going particularly well - it’s a bit like setting out in a leaky boat each time…you know where you’re headed but every painting is a completely new project, so you have to give it time. It’s always a battle until you’ve got there. It’s often only during the last couple of sessions when you capture who they are.’

Indian woman with gold earring

The paintings are all in oil on canvas and around one and a half times life-size. Terence doesn’t draw first but goes straight in with a brush or occasionally heavy charcoal.

‘I want to get to the nitty gritty energy of the image as quickly as possible. A brush is a beautifully sensitive and flexible thing and it enables you to begin very broadly.'

‘I can spend three to four weeks on a portrait, time is immaterial. Speed isn’t an issue. My attitude really is that if I give each portrait an infinite amount of time and work then I will get to the best I can do, each time.’

'What I hope to find is what I feel about people…I forget about their status, whether they’re a Duchess or a farmhand down the road, they’re all equally interesting and they’ve all got a history. It’s a very democratising process.’


Stina Richardson and Bluey

‘I try to give people something they will feel good about. I feel a sense of responsibility and want people to feel comfortable with it.’

Terence’s ability to capture each person’s individuality, whilst simultaneously portraying their vulnerable, human qualities is remarkable. Perhaps in part due to him being able to detach from their accomplishments and observe in them their own subtle, human characteristics. 

Terence McKenna’s work can be viewed here