Lately, in a change-up from the nudes, I have been trying to paint faces. I suppose in the back of my mind I had been harboring some hope of getting good enough at painting faces to paint portraits. The master of portraits is John Singer Sargent. I’m beginning to realize that I will never ever be good enough to paint a portrait that I could even show to JSS for a critique. No, of course I’m not aspiring to paint as expertly as JSS, but there is a continuum, let’s say of 100 points. JSS is 100. I had hoped to reach 80. And for a while, it had seemed doable, as I gradually captured more and more of the likenesses of my subjects. But OMG, it dawned on me between this and that stray thought, almost casually, that capturing a likeness is simply putting the correct shape in the correct spot, sort of like the police artist who renders the likeness of a suspect from the selections of a witness. A likeness is only the beginning of a portrait, a toe in the water of portraiture. I did two likenesses this week.
Neither of them qualify as portraits. Let us compare JSS’s portraits.
First, his portraits are full length. I can’t think of a single JSS painting of a face. (He did do many smaller charcoal or pencil drawings of facial likenesses, which I love to copy.) “Portrait” signifies so much more than facial features. “Portrait” suggests that attributes of the subject’s disposition are revealed. The posture of the subject, the objects held by the subject, all contribute toward conveying what the subject holds dear and what attitude the subject takes toward life.
Second, consider the monumentality of effort that JSS put into his portraits. Despite the fact that he was superbly accomplished and experienced, he would not complete a portrait with fewer than eight sittings (according to Wikipedia) and rumor has it that in at least one instance, the unfortunate subject had to submit to something like 80 hours of sitting. And by the way, again according to Wikipedia’s source, he usually got the likeness right away, in the first sitting. The rest of the sitting time, the bulk of his efforts, had to do with everything other than the likeness.
So in conclusion, I have not yet completed a real portrait, or even come close. And if I were good enough to get so far as to complete one in my lifetime, which is alas limited to another 30 years at best, I should have by now received some inkling of the possibility. I continue to make progress, but I will never arrive.
But hey! I’m having a wonderful time. Here is the lovely nude that escaped my camera last week, and a few more from this Saturday’s session:
You might like the 5- and 10-minute short poses better than the longer 35-minute pose. That 5-minute pose is the best pose–wish I could have had an hour with it. (The 50-minute pose was too horrible–I won’t even look at it, much less photograph it.) The photos this week were, by the way, brought to you by my phone, pitch-hitting for the digital single lens reflex made by Nikon. Not too shabby for a camera phone.
After our grueling session in the morning, a few of us SLG-ers got together for a party that night, and someone else’s camera phone caught this totally unposed candid shot of a few luminaries in attendance. Not.
From left to right: Marion Hazelton, Joey Pearson, Bea Bearden, Larry Christian (yes, THE Larry Christian), and me.
Aline Lotter is currently exhibiting:
at the Hatfield Gallery in Manchester (Langer Place, 55 S. Commercial St., Manchester, NH); at the Bartlett Inn in Bartlett; at the Red Jacket Inn in North Conway; at the Soo Rye Art Gallery in Rye NH; at her law offices at 41 Brook St in Manchester; and at her studio by appointment.