Director Michael Kainer’s documentary Patron Saint gets its world premiere at the Reel Artists Film Festival — the only festival of its kind in North America, exclusively dedicated to documentaries about contemporary art.
The film tells the story of Janusz Dukszta, a Polish-born psychiatrist and art patron who has commissioned over 100 portraits of himself since 1953. The Dorian Gray-esque Dukszta also helped discover some major artists in the process of acquiring his collection, including Phil Richards, who received a royal commission in 2010 to paint an official portrait of Queen Elizabeth II.
The documentary features interviews with some of the artists Dukszta has worked with as well as dizzying footage of the art patron’s apartment — every surface in the 82-year-old’s home is entirely covered in commissioned portraits and other artworks. Notable pieces in the film include a 1965 painting by Kenneth Karol that depicts him as Batman with a speech balloon reading, “But does Robin really care?” Renowned sculptor Evan Penny created 27 nearly identical concrete heads as a portrait of Dukszta in 1990, and Phil Richards’ stunning depiction of The Annunciation features an old lover of Dukszta’s in the buff. Richards actually removed hair from his body as he was painting him to get the desired effect. It’s this kind of humour that makes the deep narcissism underpinning Dukszta’s collection an easier pill to swallow.
While Dukszta has been the primary subject in each artwork, over 150 other subjects have also appeared in his commissioned works over the years.
“I have often included other people to whom I am close in the portraits done of me. There is a long historical tradition of group and family portraits which I have always admired,” Dukszta says. “It was pointed out to me recently that in the 100 or so portraits done of me, there are about 150 other figures who also appear, most of them friends and family.”
Patron Saint strikes a fine balance between profiling a compulsive narcissist and telling the more believable story of a gentle, bright man that’s cultivated innovative means of surrounding himself with beauty for decades. In many ways, the documentary itself acts as an appendage of Dukszta’s impressive collection. Kainer says the process of making Patron Saint was inspirational.
“Janusz is a complicated, hence, interesting subject and makes a great figure for a documentary. The whole experience was positive for me and, in fact, inspirational,” Kainer says. “In the same way he encouraged young artists who did his portraits, he encouraged me in the making of the film. There were no topics that he made taboo in my interviews with him.”