Susan's "subject matter, context and medium...present a coherent artistic vision"
John Torreano, Clinical Professor of Studio Art, NYU

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Seymour Chwast

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Monday, April 10, 2017

Painting in the Deep End of the Gene Pool

Catcher

I love to paint portraits.

In addition to the sheer exhilaration I derive from moving paint around on canvas, it is the best way I know to thoroughly get to know another human being. It's fun and challenging to pose my model and set the right lighting. I study every feature of his face, body and posture. I take into account all of the physiognomy and combine it with intangibles such as personality, intelligence, and background.

While I consider all of these elements that will enable me to discover his true essence, the model subjects his body and being to my artist's gaze. It is an extremely intense and intimate experience for both artist and model because we are both giving something of ourselves to the other. A strong bond forms during the early stages of the painting and the intimacy between painter and model grows deeper as the portrait progresses. At least that's how I feel.

I especially love to paint members of the same family line. It is a fascinating experience from beginning to end of the painting. For example, before I started painting my nephew Madison McLaughlin, I would have thought that "a McLaughlin is a McLaughlin is a McLaughlin." This is not so, because many gene pools contribute to one's appearance. In painting a portrait, the different gene pools vie for attention. It's war between the bloodlines. Which side of the gene pool will win? Which will cancel out the other's features? Which is the stronger contributor to the model? Who, in fact, does Madison look like? The answer is that despite all these contributing genes, Madison looks uniquely like himself. It's my job to find him through exploration with my paints.

Even though I am a reasonably accurate portraitist due to the many years I spent working as an illustrator, when I began the Madison portrait, I might as well have been painting Madison's father. The painting looked much more like his father (my brother) than Madison. I made the necessary corrections –perhaps a slightly squarer jaw, a little longer nose or such– but those changes only made him look more like his brother. After a few more alterations, Madison started looking like a male version of his mother. This simply amazes me because, although I was painting Madison, three other related but uninvited faces had appeared in my painting.

At this point, I said to myself, "Well, it doesn't look like Madison, but at least you're in right gene pool–the deep end of the gene pool maybe, but the right gene pool nonetheless." Counterproductive as it might seem, sometimes I even have to resort to intentional distortions of what I actually see in order to make the painting look more like my model. Finally, I prevailed and Madison emerged from the paint as himself. By the way, that is the most significant difference between artists and non-artists. Most people will say, "I can't draw that." Sometimes I can't either, but I keep trying until I can.

Once I got out of the deep end of the gene pool, I finished the painting with Madison holding a net full of live and healthy butterflies, colorful and jittery as I imagine a young man of Madison's age would be as he embarks on the journey of his life. I entitled the painting "Catcher"–a nod to "Catcher in the Rye.




2 comments:

  1. I just dog paddle in the shallow end.

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  2. Wow you are prolific .. Ive never followed a blog before but I love the Madison portrait and once again am drawn to you in the white dress w/ the dove... Keep it up !! Tom

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