Thursday, May 29, 2014

Portrait of Alan Cohen, M.D.

Painting a portrait is always a unique adventure. When I get a commission and I first meet the person I'm going to paint, I feel like I'm entering unknown territory. I might know a little about the person from an online biography or things people have told me, but nothing prepares me for the actual face-to-face meeting. When I first met Dr. Cohen we talked about his career, his life and family, and what he wanted in a portrait. As usual I was taking notes in my little black book while trying to really look at him and get a feeling for his personality. Since I'm not a multi-tasker, this can be really difficult because I have to switch between writing, listing, and observing at top speed.

I imagine that the experience of entering unknown territory is similar for the person being painted. Dr Cohen chose me as his artist, but that's just the beginning. He might have decided he liked my work from looking at photos of other portraits, but will he like how I paint him? And what's the process like? Most people only have their portrait painted once. So not only do they not know what to expect, but also they are feeling this is a big deal for them, and as an artist I have to keep those things in mind.

The commission is a partnership between the artist and the client. The client will tell me what he or she wants, and I have to take that into consideration. On the other hand, I am inspired to paint someone a certain way, and I have to follow my own inspiration. So you could say that both the artist and the "subject" have a responsibility to respect themselves and the other person. It's important that they continue to communicate through the entire process if the result is to be a success.

The portrait shows Dr. Cohen in his office with Buddy, the unofficial and beloved therapy dog.  Behind him are several significant objects: a baseball, a photo of his granddaughter, and a globe which is rotated to show the location of his many travels. In his hand is an old VCR tape of "Hemo the Magnificent," the TV show he watched as a kid that inspired him to become a hematologist.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Happy 96th Birthday to Joe Krush!

If you are familiar with the "Golden Age" of children's fiction, the 1950s when books like The Borrowers and Gone Away Lake were written, you might remember the wonderful line drawings   that helped transport you into the worlds within these books.

They (and many, many more) were done by a husband-wife team of illustrators, Beth and Joe Krush. When I was a kid I wanted desperately to meet the Krushes, to see how they worked together and just to know them, because I had a feeling they would be as nice and interesting as their drawings indicated, and I wanted them to teach me how to draw like them. Beth's and Joe's drawings were so good (people and animals and even architecture with cool perspective angles) that it was impossible to imagine these books without their illustrations. It almost seemed as if they had written the books. Joe wishes he and Beth had been able to illustrate Harry Potter and I agree, that would have been amazing.

About eight years ago I finally called them up and arranged to meet Beth and Joe, and I am so happy I did. Here is a portrait I did of them:

Beth passed away several years ago at the age of 90, but Joe is now celebrating his 96th birthday. Today I stopped by at his house for a visit and mini-celebration. While I was there, I brought out my latest plan for a mull-figure composition because Joe is a master at this kind of thing. If there is a flaw in a composition, he will spot it. As I thought, he gave me some excellent advice.

The Krushes' work is so exceptional, and has touched the lives and hearts of so many people, it should be duly recognized. It is my hope that the Krushes' work will be honored in Joe's lifetime with a retrospective exhibit at one of the wonderful art institutions in the Philadelphia area.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

What Does "Self-Taught" Mean, Anyway?

I always understood the term self-taught to mean, simply, that you had no formal art education. It does not mean that you've never been inspired or influenced by anyone, or that you didn't learn something from studying the work of another artist.

I don't exactly enjoy saying, “I’m a self-taught artist,” but I don't try to hide it, either. When I went to college there were no schools (at least none that I ever heard of) where an aspiring artist could learn traditional methods, so I had to pick them up myself as best I could. I'm sure many artists of a certain age range were in the same boat as I. When I say that I'm self-taught, it's only in response to the question, "Where did you go to art school?" I don't go around bragging because I don't see it as a bragging point. Someone actually accused me online of bragging about it and/or lying about it after I admitted I was self-taught in a podcast interview.

 I'm thrilled that so many ateliers have been established because now artists can get the kind of training I craved. However, the emphasis that is put on what atelier you went to, who you studied with, etc. today can have its drawbacks. There are galleries who use this as a selling point and don't want anything to do with artists who were not atelier trained because it helps them sell work to say it. There are artists who will snub you, criticize your work, and exclude you from shows of realist art because you are not formally trained, i.e. you are not "one of them." That's a pity because what the “Realist Movement” needs are more inclusive shows and a greater variety of galleries that show representational art.

Obfuscation abounds in the art world. There are artists who will let you believe they work only from life when they actually use photographic references. (I don’t have a problem with that myself and I often use them.) There are artists who say they studied with a long list of people without making a clear distinction between a short-term workshop and long-term intensive instruction. Whatever shortcomings I have, and I’m sure I have quite a few, at least I can say I don’t misrepresent myself. To be a good teacher it is important to reveal your process. To be a good example you need to be truthful. And to be honest with your collectors you need to let them know your background. When all is said and done, the artist’s work transcends the process and has a voice of its own.