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Archive for January, 2011

Miss Viola Snodgrass, suffragette and schoolmarm, portrait #7

January 8th, 2011 3 comments


Today’s model was Miss Viola Snodgrass. She arrived at my house on her shining clean bicycle, wearing a long ample skirt and a white blouse with
fabric-covered buttons. Once I had her seated, she did not move a muscle, but while we were talking she commented that this was foolishness, I could have used a camera if I wanted her image. As good as photographic equipment has become, it does not approximate what can be seen and interpreted by the naked eye. I explained to her that this was an exercise for me, I was doing this series of paintings in hopes that it would improve my abilities as a portrait artist. Satisfied that her time spent had an educational purpose, she braced her shoulders and began her sitting.

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The Old Gypsy Woman – self portrait #6

January 8th, 2011 3 comments


Today my model humored me, she put on huge hoop earrings, hoping to fulfill the prophecy of her grandmother Maddalena, uttered 50 years ago. “You look like a gypsy!” As a gypsy, she told me, in accented English, that maybe it looks like her life is good, all she has to do is read palms for a living, but people are cruel to her, the police treat her like she is vermin, and her own grandchildren take her money. Her life is hard, she told me, but she appreciated that someone would take the time to paint her picture. She read my palm, she said it was identical to hers.

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Through a glass darkly – self portrait #4

January 7th, 2011 3 comments


Totally emboldened by my artist friend’s words, I realized that my new model (me) was not going to get upset if I played a little bit with her face and created new people using her bones as my support. Who is that person in the picture? She really is a stranger, but in a funny way. I look at her features, and what do I see? I see my sister, my mother, my grandmother, my father. I see gypsies and homeless persons, Romanians and old Italian ladies. She is a million years old, she might not even understand English. I do not know her. But I do know her.

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Through the looking glass – self portrait #1

January 6th, 2011 3 comments


Defining where I am as an artist, I must tell you that I have been frustrated lately with my paintings. A fellow artist suggested that I do self portraits. I easily blew off that suggestion, “sorry, I don’t like standing in the bathroom for hours painting.” And then I realized what I’d done, once again, someone gave me good advice and I shut it down with a dumb excuse. So on the first day of January, I went to Goodwill and bought a mirror. I hung it on my wall and began to paint.

I would like to include the words of another painter here sorry, it’s anonymous:

How do you know what you look like? You think washing your face, brushing your teeth and putting on make-up before a mirror all these years tells you? Only others know what you look like. Photos of yourself are even less indicative, when they are not appalling. Remember the shock of hearing your voice the first time on a tape recorder? To further confound the issue, understand once and for all that your image in a mirror is the reverse of what others see when they look at your lovely face.

To the nitty gritty. I have done dozens of mirror portraits, and there is no better way to learn portraiture. The model is the cheapest in town, and tireless and ever accommodating. The first thing you learn, to begin learning anything, is the mug in the mirror starring back at you is a perfect stranger. With no beauty whatsoever. So paint that stranger, with the most intense scrutiny of parts, proportion, spacing, contours, line, light and shadow – the most intense scrutiny you have ever given anything. That is the only purpose of doing mirror portraits. The intent stare is a given and may never be enlivened. So what? How do you separate intent stare from intense scrutiny of your reflection in a mirror?

“Why do your self-portraits look so grim? Is it impossible for you to smile?”
“Well, dammit, you try to hold a wide toothy smile for six or eight hours and see how long you last…”

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