It’s wonderful when people tell you how good your work is, but the biggest compliment an artist can get is a sale or a commission. I had the great good fortune to meet a lovely woman at a dinner party a year or so ago who admired the portraits I had done of our hosts. She took my card so she could look through my website, and I thought no more about it. But she did, and she chose to commission two of my tango paintings to be redone and hung as a diptych.
I’ve been painting dancers for fifteen years, starting with a tango series of five paintings that showed the various phases of the dance: the presentation, the flicks and kicks, and the surrender, all represented by the dancer’s legs alone. As my canvases got larger, the images grew to include torsos. This commission called for two 30” x 40” canvases, both with white backgrounds and colors that related to each other, so that Close Encounter and High Jinks could become It Takes Two to Tango.
Dancing in the Dark
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.
Too Close for Comfort
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…