Following the completion of the last Rosie painting, I debated whether or not I should start on another Rosie or move on to a different subject. I had taken roughly 70-80 photos of her in the Fall that I’d sifted through more than a few times and eventually narrowed down to 3 paintings – each one representing a very different side of the same girl yet working well together as a triptych. After embarking on the exhaustive journey that was the 1st one, I considered changing my plan and moving on to someone else or to another concept piece. After studying someone’s face for 2 weeks straight, I seem to begin to associate all the angst that accompanies the emotional ebb and flow of the painting with the subject’s features.
It is strange the way that your focus becomes so intense, the subject seems to take on their own identity unique to that of the person in reality. Whenever I would end a painting session and then see Rosie in person, they were 2 completely different people. I found it funny that just an hour ago I’d been cursing this girl’s lips for being so difficult to paint. I would look for the features I’d been laboring over for the previous five hours and I couldn’t spot one of them, only vaguely familiar echoes of the ones in the painting.
So, after slowly working through the contempt that my familiarity w/ her likeness had bred (toward the painting and not the person of course), I decided that I would give this 2nd Rosie a shot. While the 3rd of the three I had selected was interesting in a compositional sense and it offered the chance to try some interesting new linework w/ the design of her scarf, it was relatively weak and not as emotive as the other two, so I decided it wouldn’t translate well to paint. Furthermore, where as the first Rosie was consciously chosen to portray a darker side of her, the second needed to suggest personality traits that stood in direct opposition to this (which I didn’t feel the third photo accomplished, if any of that makes senseâ€¦).
The photo for the first portrait stood out to me for a few reasons, one of the most significant being that the person it presented to me was one I never saw in the real Rosie or in the other photos. A combination of camera settings, natural lighting and her particular pose created a new identity for her that intrigued me. It was obviously darker than the rest, and this had a profound effect on how her features read and gave her an almost devious and shadowy quality I had never seen in her usual countenance, which always struck me as being honest and clear.
I realized that if I was going to paint Rosie again it would have to be inspired by a new and very different side of her, as if it was a first impression of her seen through the eyes of a completely different person than before. The photo used for Rosie Redux captured that perfectly. Instead of a voyeuristic profile shot with lips slightly parted and eyes cast sleepily downward, the new portrait would be of a woman who had nothing to hide: her gaze unashamedly cast toward the light, her eyes still relaxed but now with an element of sobriety and determination in them, her lips no longer parted and fuller, livelier, more substantial than before.
Although I have had a fairly limited pool of people to draw from for portraits so far (they have all been people I know), I still find that I can’t endure the struggle of a portrait without there being something uniquely beautiful to me about the subject (I am of course speaking of paintings done only for their own sake and not of commissioned portraits). When you hit a point where the painting feels hopeless and you know there is a lot of work ahead if you want to save it, there has to be some initial spark that remains to justify the work in store and produce a good painting. With Liz it was all the things that initially attracted me to her: her smooth black hair, thick dark eyelashes, the unique coloring of her face that begins at an light brown and blends down into a pale pinkish color. With Tess it was her fiery red hair and her flushed skin (especially in the photo I chose), as well as the heavily lidded eyes. Rosie inspired me with her curly raven black hair, beautifully strong nose, dark refined eyebrows and fair skin. Portraits are so satisfying to me because they not only allow me to pay tribute to a woman’s unique beauty, but also to explore multiple variations of that beauty. By painting two versions of Rosie, I was able to place the aforementioned features into two very different contexts and see how the control reacts with the variable (if I have that right); the difference in light altering the color of her skin and her eyes, the different expression and perspective changing the shape of her features, etc.
While I am happy with how the 2nd painting turned out, I can not honestly say that what you see is what I had pictured at the beginning. You can probably gather from my explanation of why I chose this particular photo that I had a very bright and clean looking Rosie in mind, and while I feel I was still able to carry over many of those characteristics I also feel that Rosie Redux has a sharper edge to her than I imagined. I attribute this mostly to the lighting and coloring of her face, which is darker and more bruised looking in the final painting than I imagined it to be. In the photo, the areas of her face that were directly lit by sunlight were overexposed and basically read as white, making it difficult to render that side of her face and making the cheek and nose almost indistinguishable. In order to correct this, I had to globally lower the brightness and contrast so that all areas of the face were relatively accurate while the sunlit areas were dark enough to be distinguishable. This produced a more palpable facial surface as well as a feeling that, in the words of the gentleman who ended up purchasing it: “she’s dirty, like a street person, or she was literally knocked around”.
However, I do think that this slight alteration has produced a more interesting and evocative painting than it would have been if I had followed the dictation of the photo more closely. I see the darkened and slightly exaggerated skin tones (for example the purplish-brown of the forehead and the greyish green on the chin) as proof of the depth that painting can lend to a flat and uninspired photograph, which is of course the most exciting thing for me as an artist: to feel like I synthesized something wholly new from the raw materials already existent in our world.
Categorized in: Thoughts
This post was written by mryczek