Painting portraits from photos
I always work from photos to create my paintings. Though I think that a life drawing practice can be useful to an artist, painting an entire portrait while someone waits makes little sense to me. Sure there’s the psychological tension between artist and sitter that bleeds into a painting made from life, but there’s also the interminable boredom of a subject who is literally subject to the artist’s needs as well as to her-his composition.
On the other hand, portraits painted from photographs have the potential to capture the life—the movement and the breath—of the subjects. A camera helps me to still a moment or two and catch a feeling: that is part of photography’s gift to art. Then, from the photos I’ve taken and from other less concrete observations of the sitters, I can paint them. I like to think that my paint re-imbues fleeting images with a sense of time and flesh.
For the most part, I photograph my subjects during the course of an interview. My questions are intended to help me discover how my sitters views themselves, but they’re also a way to diffuse my camera’s unrivalled ability to make people freeze up and pose! I get my subjects talking about themselves so that they can forget themselves.
And that’s how my photo-sessions with Becca’s family worked for Subjective, but, for my own family, I took a different route.
With my mother, for example, I knew that I wanted the finished portrait to emphasize how my Maman is iconic to me—how she so fully embodies motherhood in my mind.
In order to do so, I wanted to refer to the Christian icon of the mother and child, and I wanted to show my Maman cradling her dog Roo.
This premeditated approach to the photo session changed everything. My mother may have been ready to collaborate, but the dog was less convinced!
And that’s ironic considering that this fifty pound Brittany is actually happiest when he’s being held. Roo’s objection focused more on the fact that we wanted him to be cradled.
But, after several photo shoots, we got the dog to play along.
And eventually we caught a moment that matched my vision for the painting.
Becca’s photo shoot for her portrait of my mother was much simpler, and this is what my interviews usually look like too. I sit with the subjects, and sometimes I ask them to stand or I change the light on them.
Both our finished portraits exploit the wonders of photography without merely trying to imitate either that medium or life itself. Though my painting of my Maman reveals important aspects about her personality and about our relationship, it’s Becca’s portrait that capture’s my mother’s gesture and expression so completely!
My photo sessions for my portrait of my partner were a bit out of the ordinary in that he took his own picture in the mirror.
Since we’ve been together he’s always photographed me for my self-portraits, and, for Subjective, it made sense for him to photograph himself as well.
Becca took David outside for her photo shoot with him and asked him to do Tai Chi, which is an important part of his life.
To catch Subjective in Corvallis, visit the Arts Center by 31 March. It’s open Tuesday through Saturday between 12:00 and 5:00 PM.
The Arts Center
700 SW Madison
Corvallis, OR 97333