When I began thinking about the painting pictured above, over a year had passed since the completion of my first Liz portrait done around Christmas 2011. That had also been my first portrait since the days of Montserrat – probably about 7 years ago, and I was a bit nervous about it. Aside from being unsure of my ability to capture likeness and bring to life what was in my head, I wasn’t quite sure how I wanted to approach it.
For a good part of 05/06 I had focused on trying to imbue every piece that I made with some kind of cryptic concept, and I was fairly uncomfortable with the idea of painting a straightforward portrait – allowing any deeper meaning behind it to be found after it’s completion instead of determining it beforehand. I had spent the 2nd half of 2011 working predominately on very straightforward still lifes and landscapes in an effort to ease back into the practice of daily painting, and while this certainly taught me how to be ok with keeping it simple, I still wanted it to be more than just a headshot. What resulted was a kind of geometric figure painting that simply attempted to capture a pose and an expression of her’s that I was fond of and use a color (viridian green) that I associated with her in my mind for some reason.
It was a fairly satisfying painting for me, my harshest critique being that her skin tone in reality was not quite the uniform dark brown as in the painting. It was more of a dark honey color in the forehead that quickly transitioned into a pale pink in the rest of her face (think Daryl Hannah’s raccoon face paint in Blade Runner). This is a physical characteristic that I knew she was not particularly proud of, but I thought it was beautiful and distinctive and I decided that sometime in the near future I wanted to do at least one portrait of her that emphasized her coloring. The best way to do this, I decided, was to underplay and simplify all other aspects of the painting – composition, background, distracting accoutrements etc. – and exaggerate the color. I took a few head shots to inspire me and narrowed them down to one that I felt captured the minimalism I was looking for. It was simply her face with no makeup and a black scarf in front of a plain white wall. The dim early evening light coming through the windows made the colors in her face especially saturated so that there was no photo manipulation necessary afterward.
The end result is, as I feel is true with most of my paintings, very dramatic – possibly more so than I intended for it to be. It actually oozes stoicism to me, as does the photo I used to paint it. One observer said that it reminded her of the old portraits they used to do of Native Americans with the their spirit animals floating overhead, which I now always think of when looking at it, for better or worse (and now maybe you do, too). Liz admittedly is, in reality, not quite so serious. As a matter of fact, most people who know her will tell you that she is a far cry from the humorless and sedate woman portrayed in the painting, but like everyone else, her personality is multi-faceted, and I like to think I managed to capture the lesser known Liz (it seems only I am capable of bringing out that humorless and sedate side of people – call it a gift). Or maybe I simply projected my own personality onto hers, for, as some people propose, all portraits are really just slightly modified self portraits projecting the artist’s own self image, or the image that they want others to see. Either way, capturing the essence of the sitter was not my aim with this one. In the end I feel like it accomplished what I wanted it to: I was finally able to capture that fascinating skin tone once and for all and, to my shock, she “actually kind of” likes it. I couldn’t really ask for more praise than that.