When I hire a model for a one-hour photo shoot, I may get 200-400 shots, maybe 10 of which I find worth painting from. I'm not a good photographer; my photos may even be out of focus. But they will give me the information I need: gesture, lighting, the subject's relationship to her environment, suggestions of color.
What I don't necessarily see in the photo, but which becomes evident as I finish the painting, are things like the repetitious pattern of the windows and the foreground on the chair--a pleasant surprise to me. I like skimming off the tips of elements in a painting...the top of her head, the back of the chair, the lower portion of her skirt and flowered fabric. By doing so, I've created an overall abstract effect.
This 8x10 photo is available on Daily Paintworks. Click here to view auction.
I used to be a purist: only work from life
. In the art world – at schools and among artists – there was a definite bias against using any sort of photography reference; it was considered cheating. So I, like most artists, used to smugly say, "I only work from life."
One day, many many years ago, my then-brother-in-law, a therapist, visited our home. I invited him to my basement to see my work. My framed and labored-over pastels of models posed in studios were propped against the walls all around the room. He was very quiet, studying them, rubbing his chin. I waited for the compliments. "They are all very sad," he said.
"NO!" I objected in vain, "They're just bored! The models had been sitting motionless for hours as I worked from life." I decided then and there that I going to change the way I did things. I wanted movement, candid slices of life, maybe sometimes a little drama. I was going to use my camera. And for the next few years I justified myself to the omnipresent and silently smug purists.
I was in New York a few years later, passing by the Museum of Modern Art (don't ask me why I was passing it by), when I noticed the banner "Degas Photography Exhibit." Huh, I thought. This must be his son or nephew or something. This should be interesting. Imagine my dumfoundedness to see my hero, Edgar Degas', black and white photos – the references he used for his paintings and sculptures of bathers and dancers and polo ponies. Well damn, if Degas can do it, I can. I left that museum feeling liberated, vindicated, thrilled.
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