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On painting Abraham Lincoln

December 20th, 2010 Leave a comment Go to comments

I try to draw or paint every single day, it’s a discipline that I think helps me as an artist. I didn’t have a commission to paint Saturday so I went through the Shorpy archive of old photographs and found one of Abraham Lincoln. It was taken the year that he died. Perfect, I thought, and got to work.

Painting is an interesting process. The painter is completely engrossed, but the mind is still free. As I paint a person, I get to know them. But this man is someone we all know, or do we? This man’s shoulders bore the responsibility of the brutal blood bath we call the Civil war. He also agonized over whether or not to free the slaves, knowing full well that it would lead to a revolt. This past year I have read a lot of his words, and had come to the conclusion that if I could meet a president, Abe would be the one I’d most like to meet.

A self taught farm boy, his vocabulary was astounding, as was his memory. Many of the anecdotes I read about him alluded to his prodigious memory and his acerbic wit. He was so homely that he scared children, but once they got to know him, they didn’t want to leave him alone. He was merciful too, and pardoned many soldiers who had deserted, or worse, had fought for the other side.

As I painted his face, it was hard to ignore the fact that he needed a haircut, he needed his hair washed too. And no, I didn’t add the crooked bow tie, I was just passing information along, the President of the United States sat unkempt for a photograph and a few months later he was dead. I imagined him sitting for me and his being amused at my earnest attempts to capture him with paint. The most ironic part of all is the fact that I am older than he ever was. It was a great exercise and I feel like I got to know him just a little better.

How do you see Abraham Lincoln?

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  1. December 24th, 2010 at 07:59 | #1

    You did an amazing job on someone we all love so very much,who had such a big hand (no pun inteneded) in shaping our country. I love the portrait, Mimi! It is interesting that his hair was dirty and his tie askew. To accomplish as much as he did, he was probably very busy and didn’t think hair tie mattered all that much.

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