I’m just back from a holiday where I accomplished absolutely nothing. I slept late, binge-watched Netflix, and read a gazillion books -- all without leaving home. I walked in fragrant gardens and towering forests while accompanied by my beloved Theodore. My holiday required neither airports, nor time changes nor strange beds. It was quite perfect and the the first time in months I feel rested.
But inevitably I reached the point where I was boring myself, let alone any poor soul stuck in my company (sorry, Darling). This, I have come to recognize, is a sign that I need to start a new painting, probably a portrait.
It kills me that I am drawn to faces, where so many things can go, oh, so wrong. The existence of facial recognition software makes the point that exact measurement is sufficient to identify one face out of millions. Theoretically, all I need to do is to pull out the callipers. (I often think of the famous story about Colville when his wife answered a reporter’s question about what he was working on by replying “I think he’s about to start a new painting. He was measuring the dog this morning.”). Because correct proportions and relationships are vital to portraiture, I usually take the time to superimpose a grid as a template for free-hand drawing. If I’’m lucky enough to get mostly everything right, the human eye, which performs facial recognition unconsciously and perfectly, will not shout “Who the hell is that?” when confronted with the image of someone it actually knows.
A big ”however” follows. If portrait painting were nothing more than careful measurement , cameras would have replaced paintings completely a century ago and live action animation would have been perfected. Even when proportion-perfect, portraiture in oil is a brute exercise. That same exactly-proportioned face is a mobile canvass of minute muscular movements. In older faces, characteristic expressions have generally etched themselves into laugh lines or practised squints, but no matter the age, unless one has had too much “work” done and ended up with a frozen visage, faces are naturally mobile. Having to work from multiple digitals is scary but often necessary to attain this marriage of appearance and expressed personality.
I will stop here for now, because the portrait that called me yesterday is in those early stages that are mostly about drawing and some modelling of shape through burnt umber, red and yellow glazing. All that I have done other than that is to establish the iconic turquoise glasses, whose colour will be echoed in the jewelry to come much later. It's still really rough -- lots more fine-tuning and multiple layers to come.
More about “Masochism” aka “The Art of Portraiture” next week. If you see that I have changed the subject, it might mean that the underpainting went south and is now cowering in a corner of the basement or worse. Pray for us both.
By the way, if you live in Southern Ontario, do go out to your garden tonight after dark. Fireflies everywhere!!