This is a portrait in process of George Zupeck from his 1944 Seaman passport photograph. I have begun to build up the surface of the canvas using tea leaves.
I was listening to the old radio show The Green Hornet. He had a vehicle he called the black beauty. This is mine; using so much black paint is challenging and provides mystery to the final product. Last night I heard Joyce Carol Oates speak at Labyrinth Books and she said being an artist or writer is stressful because it is difficult and if it isn’t stressful then it is not worth doing. I paraphrase, but that is how I heard it, and I couldn’t agree more.
I am beginning to call the San Francisco area fighters the Olympic Club fighters because the name is more concise, as the photograph album images I am working from contain fighters from that athletic club. An observation I made while painting was I am using paint like I am building a body from clay: pushing parts together with force. Though I often paint that way, the surface being naturally colored linen (a beige color) makes the painting of the face that much more difficult. I have to make the colors more vibrant to compete with the surface, and this pushes me to be more forceful with the paint application itself, not just the colors I use.
A few weeks ago I had visitors who wanted to see Lambertville. We went to The People’s Store, a wonderful place filled with curiosities. I spotted a decrepit, once velvet-covered photo album. Seeing its’ contents, and in spite of my wish to save money, I knew I had to have it. One of my kind visitors asked if she should save me from myself, but, since I knew I didn’t want to be saved, I said no. Now I am the proud owner of many old photographs containing visages of unknown people. I painted this woman first because of her unusual face. I wonder if the elderly woman is one of her ancestors: a forbidding face if ever there was one. In fact, she reminds me of someone I admire, aged many years. I am anxious to paint her also.
I value the use of costumes because they add the unusual to what otherwise could be the everyday. I want the viewer of my work to understand that all the things we think we know we don’t. This has taken me a long time to recognize. Sometimes it seems so easy to pigeonhole a person, and then all kinds of misunderstandings can ensue. I have been helped in my thinking by reading Where Tigers are at Home where so many people from so many walks of life converge in unexpected ways, and in my own false perceptions, which have often been just plain silly but sometimes debilitating. With these portraits I am having fun dressing up people I know, or think I know, anyway.
I am reading a wonderful book about Soutine by Andrew Forge. In it the author writes the following about Soutine’s painting: Again and again we are left with sensations and paint and sensations-in-paint. He is like a man painting out of darkness, filling his dark world with things and people. Nothing is interchangeable, nothing is carried over from one thing to the next: he can paint a dozen turkeys and each picture is like the first discovery of a turkey. … His handling of it must be naive, bringing nothing from the past of skill or knowledge or practice; it also has to be virtuoso, allowing no reconsiderations and no backward glances.
With the busyness of life I sometimes forget how important this is. Images I see, and then must paint, remind me.
Yesterday I looked through a book of costumes for the theater and came across a painting of a masked woman. Since I have not been happy with the portrait of my mother, I decided to add a mask. Just as in life, it covers a multitude of sins, but more importantly, it provides some mystery. My first mistake with the portrait was to have my mother smiling. Smiles have no place in portraits, unless they are evil, joker-like smiles.