The artist’s motivation for creating this body of work was the stories he had witnessed of families fleeing conflict zones in Syria, Afghanistan and more recently Ukraine, and the migration of people from sub-Saharan Africa to escape extreme poverty to reunite with loved ones further afield. With his sensitively painted portraits, the artist wants to counteract the often aggressive narrative that is used to speak about the people that endure incredibly dangerous journeys to find safety in places like the UK.
There continues to be a debate surrounding the language that is used to describe people as ‘migrants’ or ‘refugees’ – the word more often used ‘migrant’ does not necessarily acknowledge the person’s need for protection and care in the same way. Although Ian does not have lived experience of the danger and suffering that his subjects have undergone, his goal with Open the eyes of my heart is to instil in the viewer the feeling of walking in their shoes and seeing through their eyes through the images and stories portrayed. He strives to go beyond the photograph and command the viewer to observe more closely and realise the obscurity of these narratives.
Ian Whyte is an artist based at Inverness Creative Academy. He mostly works in oils and acrylic to make figurative art, portraits and landscapes. He paints from life and reference material like photographs that allow him to explore fleeting images, but has a preference to work from life models and en plein air for landscape. His artistic influences include Rembrandt, Velazquez, John Singer Sargent, Lucien Freud, Andrew Wyeth and Jenny Saville. During the COVID-19 lockdowns he painted portraits of NHS doctors and nurses in gratitude of their care and support throughout the pandemic.