A Hillsboro dentist makes a deal with a young portrait artist.
The Tooth Fairy couldn’t have brokered a better deal. Northwest Portland artist Gwenn Seemel has swapped a portrait of Hillsboro dentist John T. Roberts for two fillings and a couple of years worth of checkups. Not that either of them ordinarily run their respective businesses on swaps and barters.
Ten years ago, she followed him from Beaverton to Hillsboro when he joined the practice of long-time Hillsboro dentist, Dr. Jim Kiley. “When you find a dentist you like, you stick with him,” said Seemel, whose teeth have been cared for by Roberts through her Jesuit High School and Willamette University years.
On the other hand, Dr. Roberts has seen Seemel, now 28, through her adolescence to her career as a studio artist making a name for herself as a portrait painter. Theirs is a mutual admiration society and both talk about their work in artist terms—color, hue, darkness and light, color value—all appropriate for modern dentistry as well as for artists. She’s talking paint; he’s talking implants and crowns.
A couple of years ago, fresh out of school and short on cash, Seemel needed a dental tuneup when Roberts, who had seen her work, suggested a trade: He’d work on her teeth if she would work on a portrait of him in her signature artistic style. She’d already shown her series of portraits of women in transition—puberty, birth, death—in Portland, where she is making a name for herself as a studio artist.
She started with a photo session that yielded around 400 shots of Roberts in his dental scrubs, glasses hanging from his neck. Seemel winnowed those hundreds of photos down to a few, which she felt most represented him, and then reconciled them with information she gathered during the photo shoot/interview. She requested feedback from her boyfriend and her mother (also a Roberts dental patient), sketched a bit and then started to paint.
Seemel’s colorful style has evolved from printmaking studies and cross-hatched drawing skill. “I was intrigued with her artwork,” said Roberts. “Nobody else does anything like it.”
This week the swap was completed and the dentist’s portrait hangs in the waiting room of his office.
“I am a big part of my work,” said Seemel, who does not consult with her subjects once she starts painting. “I want them to be happy, but they are no longer a part of the process.” Only once, she said, did a subject ask her to change something in a portrait and she refused.
And did Roberts like his portrait? “She got my nose right and I like the hair,” he said. “Gwenn captured my personality—easy going and approachable—that’s a good thing for a dentist. And there are so many colors I couldn’t count them.”
Seemel recently closed a show in Eugene and will be part of a group show opening Friday, July 17, at Olympic Mills Commerce Center Gallery, 107 SE Washington Street, Portland. She does commissioned work as well as personal projects, and teaches workshops for artists hoping to make a living from their artwork—as she does. To see more of her work, go to www.onefaceatatime.com.
©2009 The Hillsboro Argus