It’s almost two years since I first worked with Whitney Browne, and her photographs continue to move me. I’m particularly fascinated with her double exposures, allowing her subjects to be in two places at once. Since I love to paint movement, whether smoke in the air, jellyfish in the sea, or dancers on land, these images of hers speak to me. It’s a great challenge to suggest motion on a flat canvas and makes for many hours of both enjoyable and excruciating painting. Because the photos are not exactly realistic, I can paint the shapes and colors without allowing my brain to name them and miraculously end up with what I think is an interesting and unusual painting.
When I met Whitney Browne this summer, I proposed a collaboration between photographer and painter…thinking we might be a good fit, particularly because of our interests in dance and in portraits. Having just spent months painting faces and looking for a change of pace, I went to whitneybrowne.com, Whitney’s website, for inspiration from her photographs of dancers. I can’t imagine how she got this shot, but the movement and flow captured in a moment made me want to paint it. I cropped and edited and took some liberties with her work, but I hope I did the dancer justice. Actually, I hope I did the photographer justice…
I usually paint my tango dancers on a colored ground, my focus being the image, not the setting. But over the last couple of years, my friend, Jeff Fay, a wonderfully talented young artist who specializes in architectural paintings (jhutchinsonfay.com), did a few night paintings—a convenience store, a gas station, an ice cream stand—that blew me away. I loved the atmosphere that black background created and thought it would work in a tango painting, enhancing the mood and highlighting the intimacy. It took me some time before I got to paint this, but I knew before I started that I would call it Dancing in the Dark.
I’m a great fan of dancing of all kinds, but I especially love to paint tango dancers. The tango is such a sensuous dance that the figures on the canvas, caught in a moment of time, still seem to be moving. I really enjoy the challenge of figuring out where each leg needs to be and which shoe goes in front of which shoe, especially since they’re so often black on black on black.
Close Encounter found its way to Charlottesville, Virginia, earlier this year, and the lovely couple who own it commissioned a companion piece, Too Close for Comfort, so they could hang the two 30” X 40” paintings together on a large wall going up their stairs: two couples destined to dance near each other but never meet or even bump into one another on the dance floor.
I’ve been dancing all my life. When I was almost five, my mom enrolled me in my first ballet class, and for years after I took ballet, tap and even Spanish dancing, then jazz classes as an adult. My husband and I took ballroom and disco lessons in the 70’s and early 80’s and were regulars at the Fan Club in Boston. We still dance whenever possible, so perhaps that explains why I would want to paint dancers.
I like to fill the frame in my paintings and often crop my images to do so, thinking that a partial image can sometimes tell the whole story. I also like to use multiple canvases, so my first tango painting became a happy accident. I sketched an image of tango dancers on two canvases, thinking I’d make it a diptych, perhaps even non-linear. Instead, as I kept looking at the sketch, I realized that the legs alone—entwined, flicking, dragging, kicking—were all I needed to express the emotions of the dance. The tango is, after all, a sexy dance, a dance of love, incorporating sensuality, aggression, and surrender in every routine. Since my first tango series, I have painted many individual poses, expanding my views to include torsos on larger canvasses. Perhaps my next tango painting will go even further…