Wednesday, February 9, 2011

"New Day" and capturing expression

Number three in my "Moving Out" series, this painting features Kelly standing in the doorway of our old kitchen. I have painted her in this environment several times, and in the backyard behind her, creating a vague storyline throughout the series (see "In the Yard", "Blue Cup" and "Green Mug").

I paint Kelly more often than anyone else by a long shot, I think the number is around twenty canvases now. I feel that since we are so close and have spent the last twelve years together, I can communicate my ideas through her more easily than any other model. She knows exactly where I'm at with my work, and our paintings have influenced each others in incredible ways over the years.

I displayed several paintings at a large exhibition in the summer, two paintings of Kelly and one of our good friend Ebony. People would joke, "So, that's your'e wife, and that's your mistress?" Other people would simply point to a painting of Kelly and ask if she was my wife. It happened enough times that it solidified my belief in the incredible sensitivity humans have when viewing faces. People could somehow read the paintings on a deeper level, without knowing either myself or my models.

Capturing expression in a portrait is at once the most challenging and most delightful part about being a painter. One brush stroke can change a model's expression from elated to frustrated to nervous in a single swipe. When you nail it though, you can really touch people, more than any photograph, more than an encounter with the actual model. The time and patience taken to create that painting shows, like slow pulsing radiation.

That is what us figurative painters are after I think. Today artists have a huge variety of artistic expression available at their fingertips, and figurative painting still rides the line between being either significant or outdated in many circles. But in my mind, painting, and painting the figure especially, has the ability to affect viewers and relay emotion in ways other mediums can't. That's why we painters don't mind the long hours, the isolation and the stresses that come with being a representational artist. If you can get them, you can really get them.

Monday, February 7, 2011

"Packing Up"

I completed this painting in September just in time to be displayed at Art Toronto, the largest international art exhibition in Canada. It was my first time exhibiting with Engine Gallery at the fair, and they did a great job of finding a home for the painting during the collector's preview.

Art Toronto gathers galleries from Toronto, Montreal, New York, London and others from around the world to display what new and fresh in the art scene. The work covers the widest range possible, which I always find refreshing, and there seemed to more figurative work this year than last.

"Packing Up" is the second painting from my "Moving Out" series, which come from my experience of leaving my last apartment. I lived there for about five years, three of which with my wife Kelly Grace. It was a little house from around 1890 with tons of character, like the doorbell that screamed like school bell and made us jump every time it rang.

Kelly and I both used the living room as our studio (pictured in the painting), an incredible feat given the cramped quarters, but we had the house to ourselves and plenty of good times were had under that roof. We have separate studios in our new place, which is fantastic, but I will always think fondly of the days in that little house in the East end, and all of the paintings that we created there.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Jeanne Beker

Here is the portrait I painted of Jeanne Beker for the episode of "Star Portraits" I participated in several months ago. She has been involved in the fashion world for over 25 years, the face of "Fashion Television" and has produced several magazines and fashion lines over the years.

The filming of the episode was completed in three parts. First, myself and two other artists (Lori Dell and Gillian Iles) met the crew at a storage facility on the outskirts of town, readying ourselves to meet our mystery sitter. We weren't told who the celebrity was going to be, as it's kept hush hush so they can reveal the sitter to us on camera and film our reactions.

I was excited to see Jeanne walk down the stairs, I recognized her instantly which was a relief. I was worried that I would not be familiar with our model, and have to mug a fake smile when they walked out!

We had three hours to draw her from life, and then a few minutes at the end to take some reference photos. It was difficult to get any real drawing done, as the sitter is being interviewed at the same time, but it was a good opportunity to get to know Jeanne a little more beyond what I've seen on television. She was very sweet, and I liked that she had maintained a humble attitude. I pride myself on my work ethic, so I have a great deal of respect for anyone who puts in those long hours to get to where they need to go.

Once back at my studio, I had two weeks to complete the portrait. Usually I would spend at least twice that amount of time on a painting, so I wasted no time and got to it right away. I wanted to choose a pose that expressed her quiet side, something that I caught a glimpse of during our sitting.

We all have our exterior personalities, but in my work I try to reveal the silent nature of us, capturing the moments when we are by ourselves and able to concentrate on our own thoughts. Jeanne especially has to maintain a slick exterior, interviewing models and designers in the whirlwind that is the fashion world must be exhausting and she has to smile all the way through it. I thought that if I could crack through that exterior and reveal something more personal, it would be a better representation of her.

Once the paintings were finished, the artists and the crew met at the Royal York hotel to reveal the portraits to Jeanne. She was to choose one for her own collection, and the other two were to be auctioned off to benefit the charity of her choice.

As we waited in the next room in anticipation of her reaction, I wondered if she would choose my portrait, or prefer something that more closely expressed the surface of her public persona. After a half hour went by, we were wondering what was happening in the next room. The host of Star Portraits, the lovely and charming Louise Pitre, emerged from the room with tears in her eyes. Jeanne had been overwhelmed by our paintings, was in tears herself and was having a very difficult time deciding on which painting she would like to keep.

Twenty more minutes went by, and we were finally allowed into the room where Jeanne had just spent nearly an hour contemplating our paintings. I was overjoyed at her reaction, the greatest compliment I can receive as and artist is an intense emotional reaction from the viewer when first seeing my painting. Jeanne finally chose Lori Dell's portrait, but was so moved by all three portraits, that she donated money to the charities herself and kept all three paintings for her collection.

Filming the show was an extremely rewarding experience for me. At the wrap party for the show, I spoke with nearly all of the artists, and thoroughly enjoyed viewing all of the portraits created for this very unique program. Being a representational painter can be a very lonely existence sometimes, long hours in the studio and little time to get out can drive me a bit batty, but being amongst my peers and being part of Star Portraits gave me a renewed sense of pride in what I do. Click here to visit the "Star Portraits" website to view the portraits and find out more about the show.