A White Study: Portrait
My good friend and former student (Long Beach High School Class of ’67), Jeffrey Felner, posts #wakinguptofashion every day on FaceBook and Instragram, featuring fantastic fashion photographers of the past and today. Last fall, I took a screen shot of one of his postings—a beautiful, young model who was swathed in white tulle from her hat to her toes. I filed it away and came across it last week, when I was looking for something new to paint. The whiteness of her made me think of one of the earliest painting assignments presented to students at the Acorn School of Art: the white study, an exercise that teaches just how much color there is in a painting of white objects. I thought it might be fun to try a portrait in white, having just watched Debra Highberger’s portrait painting lesson on YouTube through acornartschool.com. I got to give myself the challenge of painting a portrait, painting a white study and painting the transparency of tulle…all in one. Having just finished two very large paintings, I decided to change the pace by painting a couple of small canvases. I painted JJ the Beast and A White Study: Portrait alternately, because one canvas could sit out on my patio to dry for a day or two while I painted the other.
Good news for the new year came from Light Space & Time Online Gallery today. I entered their 8th Annual All Women Art Exhibition, and Diva won a Special Recognition award for outstanding art in the Painting and Other Media category. The gallery received 909 entries from 24 countries from around the world, including 37 states in the U.S., so I am honored to be including among so many talented women.
You may or may not have noticed that I haven’t posted since October 18, a significant date for me and my husband, since that was the day we accepted an offer for our house in Swampscott. We only had two months to clean out and pack up the home we’ve had there for almost 45 years, so painting and posting had to take a back seat for a couple of months until we closed and moved to our condo in Florida. Recovering from the stress and labor involved in such a big move has been a challenge, but I’m just about ready to resume my life and get back to painting again. Look for a painting of my son and his son soon, as well as several black & white studies…
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…
As we close our condo in Florida for the season, I’ve completed my winter project with the last portrait for the triptych “Three Sisters.” I intended to paint Cassie from a sweet photograph of her at her sister’s middle school graduation last year, until my daughter sent a text with a picture of Cassie that made me change my plans. There she was, in the front hall of their house, slouched against the furniture, wearing cool sunglasses (not the first time I’ve painted her in sunglasses) and cooler clothes, being the totally chill kid she is. That’s the portrait of Cassandra at 8 I had to paint. She’s completely her own person…fierce with plenty of sweet, happy-go-lucky, kind, shrug off everything, smart, you go girl attitude. But I’m not too crazy about her, am I?
My husband is my biggest fan and my most thoughtful critic. He was quite taken with my latest work in black and white, encouraging me to do more of it, so I decided to try to paint him. For even more of a challenge, I painted him from a color photograph.
He had the distinct honor of marrying our son and his bride five years ago. Licensed as an officiant by the state of Vermont, he wrote a beautiful ceremony that he performed at Stowe Mountain Lodge. The photographer took a wonderful picture of him as he walked down the aisle, and those of us who love him, called him Rabbi Rich for awhile. That’s the photograph I used to paint this portrait in black and white.
One of my husband’s best childhood memories comes from going to Coney Island–just a subway stop away from his home in Brighton Beach, but still a big treat for him when he was a kid. After the Nathan’s hot dogs, his favorite thing to do there was at George C. Tilyou’s Steeplechase Park, where he would ride a mechanical pony in the horserace course that ran two miles around the park to the finish line and gave the park its name. If his father had taken him or if he had enough money of his own (sometimes he didn’t), he’d always choose to go on the mechanical horserace ride.
A few months ago, he saw a piece in the New York Times about the rebuilding of Coney Island after the disaster that was Hurricane Sandy in New York. There were a bunch of old photos of the amusement park as it used to be in its heyday, including one of the grinning face that was the iconic symbol of Coney Island. It brought him back to a happy time during a not so happy time in his life, so he asked me to paint it for him. I find it hard to refuse him, though most of the people who saw me working on it could not understand why I would paint such a weird looking guy. The truth of the matter is, a portrait’s a portrait, and the same challenges face a portrait painter, no matter who the subject or how appealing. I’m happy to have survived painting all those teeth for him, especially when I see the smile on his face whenever he looks at Funny Face.
Conventional portraits are tricky. No matter how well an artist has reproduced a likeness, the subject is likely to be disappointed. I hardly know a woman who is satisfied with a photograph of herself, much less with an artist’s vision of how she looks. And I don’t mean to let men off the hook–they have their vanity, too. But pop portraits extract the barest information to form an image–if they were photos, they’d have been airbrushed. Who wouldn’t like that?
The first pop portrait I painted, Anticipation, was inspired by an ad in a catalog for skin and beauty products. Even though the image is cropped to show only noses, mouths and chins, I thought the couple vaguely resembled my husband and me–he’s got a beard and is always tan, certainly darker than pale me–so I painted it to have it hang over our bed in Florida. No matter how old we are, we’ll always look sexy on that wall!
Soon after, I came across an old sepia print of a movie still for “Cafe Metropole,” starring Tyrone Power and Loretta Young. A little creative cropping ensued, and I painted Fantasy. I’ve never heard of nor seen that movie, but I like to think that my painting is ambiguous enough so that you don’t know if she’s his fantasy or he’s hers.
Almost all of my pop portraits of women are painted from photos of models, some well known and some anonymous. When I can, I like to hang them like photo booth prints.
Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, Brunettes and Redheads