Monday, November 5, 2007

art therapy

Over the weekend, I spent a good portion of time coaxing the likeness of a dead man and his wife out of a charcoal pencil. I happen to be able to somewhat accurately render people's portraits in a variety of media--charcoal, oil paint, watercolor. I can't recall when I discovered this skill, but I have reasonably good portraits dating back to high school. Actually, I have a pretty nice piece that I drew of my grandfather who died when I was in 8th grade. I'm better now...but for that age, I wasn't bad.

When I was younger, most of my subjects had been alive when I drew them. Often they were girls to whom I was trying to ingratiate myself. (They were flattered, but I rarely achieved my intended objective.)

Around this time of year in 1999, I quickly drew a portrait of Polly's dad for use on the memorial folder at his wake/funeral. This turned out to be a good marketing move. That drawing has led to a fair amount of portrait commissions. I haven't exactly kept track of it, but I'm pretty certain that I have sold more portraits than any other kind of art. Not that I've really focused on selling my art.

While I have been commissioned to do a fair amount of live people--children, engagement portraits, that sort of thing--I have also drawn probably more than my share of dead people. I don't mind. It's nice that I can do it, and those left behind often appreciate it. It has lead to the occasional awkward exchange. I can think of at least one family member who liked the memorial portrait I had done of one relative or other that he wanted to be sure that when he shuffled off this mortal coil, I was ready to capture his likeness. I don't think I have to work from his actual corpse. I think it's probably okay to use a photo.

Which begs the question: is it a life drawing or a still life? Not a bad name for an exhibition of these death portraits...something to consider.

Speaking of exhibits, recently I entered a not-so-recent painting into a local art show. I felt a bit fraudulent, because my artistic output has mostly been limited to random sketches, some illustrations for theatre posters and the occasional portrait commission. The piece I entered was done in 2000. However, the requirements for the show was that the artist resided in the Fox Valley area, the work was ready to hang and it hadn't been entered in this same show in previous years. Age didn't matter. I presume the Mona Lisa could have been entered, if the Louvre was inclined to loan it out. And if Leonardo DaVinci's remains had been exhumed and moved to Aurora.

The show is called "Vicinity 2007" and the theme is that all the artists live within some radius of the gallery. I entered in the show for a couple reasons. There were five monetary prizes, one for $1000 and four for $250. Those would have been nice, but I really didn't expect to win. (And I would have really thought myself a fraud if I had won, since the work was so old. Still would have cashed the check, though.) The real reason was to pad my resume. I want to get in the habit of making art work and exhibiting it, and I wanted more juried shows to name check for that purpose.

About a year and a half ago, I did a solo exhibit of my work. All of it was old work. It was my intent that it would be the last time this stuff was shown, and I would start to make new work. I called the show "Cobwebs" and promised myself that I would take this opportunity to dust off my creativity and start to make new work. My hope was to have built up a large enough body of work to do another solo exhibit of new work within a year.

I broke that promise.

So feeling like a bit of a failure, I attended the opening reception for the Vicinity show yesterday. It was a bit of an odd experience, but would have been odder if I had more invested emotionally in it. I went with Polly and her mother, and we took the three kids along. I wasn't crazy about the idea of taking the kids along. Polly didn't think it would be a big deal. Nothing that happened at the exhibit change either of our opinions. Our kids are relatively well behaved (with the exception of Rosalie, who at 2 has taken the idea of the terrible twos to heart). No scenes were made. No art was ripped off the walls. Ultimately, I wasn't able to relax and focus on the event and look at the art and hang around anonymously near my painting and listen to other people's comments about it because I was more focused on what the kids were doing. So I guess it's just a matter of opinion. That said, I did enjoy talking to Ross (my six-year old) about the art. I just would rather have done it when the gallery was less occupied.

I didn't win any prizes. Not even an honorable mention. I don't know if I would have known before the event whether or not my work had been awarded. Even so: while I would have felt a fraud had I won anything, and didn't expect to win a little part of me was disappointed. I guess I'm just a little bit human.

(The piece I entered in the exhibit is's a portrait of my uncle and grandmother from a photo taken when they were in Cuba, juxtaposed with political iconography. There was a theme running through my work about 7 years ago that dealt with some of those ideas.)

santos de la revoluciĆ³n 2000, originally uploaded by basest.

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