Artwork / 2003 / James

commissioned portrait of a white man with a goatee and glasses
Gwenn Seemel
acrylic on canvas
24 x 18 inches

James was the first stranger I was ever commissioned to paint. I’d done a handful of commissioned portraits before, but always of people I knew personally. When I met James to photograph and interview him, I was totally winging it, but he never let on that he could tell.

He also never let up on his support for my work for the 14 years that I knew him. He bought my art now and again—even this piece that I thought no one would ever want. And if was trying something new in my career, he was always ready to give me feedback.

A few years ago, I asked to borrow his portrait along with his partner’s, since I was redocumenting old work with a better camera. When I came by to pick up the pieces, I suggested to James that I might touch up the edges of the portraits while I had them. Back in 2003 and 2004 when I made his paintings, I was barely finishing the wrapped edges of the canvas. His pieces looked a little messy to me, but James was not having it. He informed me that I would not be borrowing the works until I swore I would not alter them in any way.

James died in 2017. He was a true patron of the arts: he taught me to respect my own work. I miss him a lot.