With Flame, I have completed my tenth painting using the painterly photography of Whitney Browne as reference (www.whitneybrowne.com). In her series, Dance for the Photographic Eye, I came across a portrait of a dancer, Raul Acanda, and knew I wanted to paint him. I did what I do: chose a big canvas, cropped the image, focused on his upper body and aspirational pose and called the painting Reach. I spent the summer on another couple of paintings but kept being drawn back to Whitney’s photograph, so I decided to use Raul as a model again to paint the source of his strength…his fulcrum…his lower body. The two paintings will be hung together side by side.
Until I started the painting, I didn’t realize how blatantly sexual it would be. The very size of the 40” X 40” canvas puts the image in your face. Titles suggested by some of my paint people and my husband included The Package and Red Hot, while a more esoteric friend thought Golden Ratio would work. I settled on Flame for a few reasons: he is red hot, like a flame; a flame is a source of heat; a small flame can set a big fire. Once again, people who passed by the studio and saw me painting him had their own commentary, usually accompanied by snickering. Quite a physical specimen, Raul…you should probably be the one snickering.
I like to name my paintings…to give them titles that convey at least some of what I’m feeling and thinking about them as they come together from drawing to finished piece. This beast of a 40” X 40” canvas took a couple of weeks to paint, giving me more than enough time to think of a name for it. The dancer is so powerful, so focused, so aspirational in this moment frozen in time that I chose to call it Reach. I see him on the prow of a ship, on top of a mountain, on a stage in a theater, on top of the world, calling to mind Robert Browning’s poem, Andrea del Sarto, “Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, Or what’s a heaven for?” In what I now call my first life, I was a high school English teacher and taught creative writing; now I’m a painter, who continues to write and just quoted a poet who used a painter for his subject…now that’s the circle of life.
Thanks again to Whitney Browne, a most painterly photographer who allows me to use her images for inspiration. See what she does, especially Dance for the Photographic Eye, at http://www.whitneybrowne.com.
The grisaille project that I started earlier this year continues with Rising Again, the painting of Whitney Browne’s breathtaking dancer in her collection of Dance for the Photographic Eye. While I usually paint my grisailles in tones that are akin to the colors I envision for my finished painting, as in Looking for Love, this time I saw this magnificent black woman coming to life in black and white. Because I am not a robot (#captcha), the grisaille and the painting are not identical, but rather two exceedingly similar views of the same subject, much like a photographer might find just one or two shots out of dozens snapped in a portrait shoot that are worthy of publication.
When I see a photograph I want to paint, there are many decisions to be made before my brush ever touches the canvas. Just as a plein air painter might use a view finder to frame the scene he chooses to paint, I need to decide where my edges will go…how much do I crop and where…will the image fill the frame or have background…and, in the case of Rising, is it a figure or a portrait? When I first saw the photo of this powerful dancer in Whitney Browne’s collection of Dance for the Photographic Eye, I knew I wanted to paint her as a portrait. I moved her to the left, cropped off all but the upper portion of her body and counted on the negative space on the canvas to provide the feeling that she is a woman about to take flight. This version of Rising is the grisaille; the full painting is yet to come…