Jun 2009

But What Does it Mean?

Every portrait that is painted with feeling is a portrait of the artist, not of the sitter.
Oscar Wilde

I remember being asked one time very early in my career about a painting I had just completed. The person I was speaking with wanted to know exactly why I had painted things the way I did. I believe my bristled response was something along the lines of, “Does every painting have to have some deeper meaning? Can’t a painting just be a painting?” Well, sometimes a painting is, “just a painting,” and at this neophytic stage a lot of my work was, “just a painting,” as I struggled to learn the craft behind the art.

Looking back, I realize part of the reason for the terse response was due to my difficulty in verbalizing why I’ve painted certain subjects, or to be more precise, why I’ve painted subjects in a particular manner. After all, painting by it’s very nature can be an intensely personal endeavor, arguably the more personal the more successful, and so it follows that discussions of an artist about his work can be very personal as well. It’s not always easy to peel back the layers and expose your thought process. Often times I prefer to leave interpretation up to the viewer anyway, rather than toss out my thinking, (although that sounds like a cop out- and can be at times). That way when someone does “get it” you realize a connection that otherwise wouldn’t come to exist. It also forces the viewer to become more invested in the work as they reach in and think about the possibilities of what you as an artist are trying to get across.

Having said all that, here are a few comments about the painting above, a recently completed portrait of a subject I’ve painted in the past. I would love to hear your thoughts.

The woman is the same person depicted in the painting, “Rose.” Though there are many similarities between the two works: the subject, the clothing and props, even the pose, the two paintings communicate very different moods. The first, was an attempt to capture a feeling of innocence underlying a tough exterior. The subject is quiet and contemplative although with a feeling of inner conflict. The lighting is cold, the rendering precise. The flower she holds is soft, light and delicate.

The direction of the painting above is different. The rendering, though still representational, is looser, with a more tactile sensibility. The woman now sits up ram rod straight, almost defiantly, against an aged looking background that is weathered and stained but altogether softer than the cold tile wall in the previous work. The single flower has now grown into a loosely held bouquet, but the flowers don’t have the soft delicate look from before, and there are small, prickly, tendrils corkscrewing their way outward. The woman has a knowing look with just the slightest hint of a smile.