Monday, 23 February 2015

The legendary Stephen Ferris

Stephen Ferris I guess has always been a rugby hero of mine. He didn't come through the Ulster Schools system but was encouraged to pursue rugby after he left school by Dungannon born Ulster rugby scrum coach Allen Clarke. He was an absolute giant for Ulster when he played – which wasn't as many times as we would have liked thanks to his habit of picking up long term injuries. He had to retire early which meant he didn't win as many Irish or British Lion caps that his talent deserved.

He will be forever remembered by me for his Lions try in a pre-Test game when he showed a surprising turn of speed to plonk the ball down under the posts;


the way he manhandled Australian scrum half Will Genia in a World Cup rugby match in New Zealand


and finally for how he lifted Ravenhill in his long awaited return from an ankle injury by bashing an unsuspecting Scarlets back and knocking him back more yards than he'd like to remember. I still get goosebumps watching this.


Well all this is a preamble to how Stephen met me last weekend in Marks & Spencers. He was standing alongside me in the check out queue and I was surprised how he wasn't as big as I had imagined, well compared to Paddy Johns the ex-Irish rugby captain who simply towers over me. He was probably too shy to ask me how my painting of him was coming on, but more likely he probably didn't want to bother me on a Saturday morning, thinking quite wrongly, that I'd more pressing things on my mind. We both walked out of the superstore towards the car park together. I saw people nod at me in recognition and as always I smile back in acknowledgement. Amazingly we were both walking in the same direction and as soon as I saw the little Honda Jazz beside the Porsche I hoped it wasn't his. Sod's law determined it was, so I walked on past my pride and joy towards McDonalds just so he wouldn't be embarrassed by the size of his car. Out of the corner of my eye I watched him toddle off in the direction of Dublin where he would be a guest analyst for a Six Nations rugby game that afternoon. It was now safe to double back to my little baby Honda!

After Rory McIlroy I was more determined to get Stephen's portrait right. The task here was not so much a likeness but the numerous creases on his green international rugby shirt. I spent a lot of time trialling my fingers over soft pastel and getting my blending smooth and graduated before I tackled the main painting. I didn't want it to look airbrushed, I wanted a measure of rough, male macho-ness in there that befitted a tough guy like Stephen and I hope the painting did him justice. I was pleased with the outcome, the jersey and scrum cap look authenticate enough, the creases work and don't look awkward. He's bulked up around the shoulders as he is wearing padding beneath the shirt.

THERE'S ONLY ONE STEPHEN FERRIS  [shot through glass]  2015
While I was in Dawn's Monday night pastel class finishing off Stephen one of Matthew's helpers noticed my painting. Impressed he took a photograph with his iPhone and sent it off to the great man while telling me he had been Stephen's rugby captain at Friends School in Lisburn and knew him very well. So the legend that is Stephen Ferris definitely knows this painting exists.

I can only guess he's still too much in awe of me...        

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