I sold this painting when I graduated from Alfred, and a friend happened to run into it recently. It lives in the same house as the cat it depicts. (His name is Whiskers.)
My friend Chris had commissioned a portrait of his family a while back, and I finally finished it up in time for a Thanksgiving reveal. It's so nice to see the folks in person after having worked on them two-dimensionally for so long.
A week and a half after the Boston Marathon bombings, I went to the Copley Square memorial. The sun was shining, the tulips were blooming, people were wearing light sweaters and sunglasses, but everyone was quiet. Traces of the bombing were still visible across the street, and bouquets, handwritten messages, and running shoes were gathered together.
I started the painting shortly after, but it didn't get done as quickly as I had expected. As soon as it got going, deadlines for other projects came up, and I set this one aside. And as luck would have it, right before resuming months later, I lost all of my reference photos after a computer crash. Lesson learned: always back up your stuff!
I eventually returned to Copley with my camera to gather new images, and found the same spot on the lawn where I'd sat months before. The light was different because it was now winter - it was colder and made Boston look somewhat barren and desolate. Replacing my reference photos of an Old South Church in the spring with photos of it in the middle of December allowed a bit of winter to creep into the painting. The whole right side of the painting looks much colder and not quite as illuminated. I see this as a reflection of the amount of time that passed from when I started to when I returned to it. That day was no longer fresh in my mind, but I was returning to it with a different perspective.
It was peculiar to stand in front of Old South Church after spending hours and hours painting it from photographs. I'd become so accustomed to studying those buildings from a set perspective on a screen, but here I was, walking around them and seeing them from other angles. It's almost like I'd expected to see a matte painting, or a hyperrealistic projection of my painting. I was reminded of listening to a song over and over again on headphones, and then seeing it performed live and watching the song after hearing it so many times. Or watching a movie and then stumbling upon one of the actors in real life and being struck by how tall or short the actor is compared to myself. I noticed things in person that I can't remark in a recording, and it made it feel more real than real life.
As a photorealistic painter, I count on photos to help me replicate postures, hues, and details. And although I was easily able to recapture my references for the architecture, the people populating Copley Square back in the spring were not so easy to replace. So instead, I turned to repurposing.
Inventing just wasn't an option with a partially finished photorealistic painting. But repurposing, to a painter who relies on photo references, is a freeing alternative process. Recycling an image from another source offers the security of the concrete, but also the freedom to "cut and paste" as needed. It also opens up the painting to my imagination, and I am able to make a composite of parts that make sense as a story, whether or not they were together in the first place.
Ingres and Manet are two of my favorite examples of painters who used this technique. Ingres in a more delicate manner, Manet rather unapologetically. In "The Turkish Bath", some of the poses are almost identical to those of models in Ingres' other paintings. It often seems that Ingres copied and pasted certain people from one painting to another, and used a horizontal mirroring and slight adjustments to disguise this tactic. Manet, on the other hand, kept everything the same, and did not bother with correcting inconsistencies. The man from "The Absinthe Drinker" was clearly repainted into "The Old Musician", along with the wall he leans against, his shadow, and the lighting, all of which are inconsistent with the rest of the painting. But then, Manet is pretty ballsy. He wanted us to acknowledge that a painting is a painting, and as the painter, he is not restricted to painting the absolute truth.
In the same vein of thinking, I repopulated the painting with people from all kinds of places, from strangers in another country to people from my life here at home. I looked in my photo library for people whose attitudes seemed like they belonged at this scene, so that it almost felt like casting a set of actors to play characters in the painting. I ended up "casting" strangers, my mother and my brother, acquaintances, and eventually myself. To place myself into the painting made it feel all the more real to me, and when I look at it now, I feel a part of myself sitting on both sides of those tulips: one a participant in the scene and the other an observer. In truth, I typically paint scenes that I am not involved in, but I was a part of this day, so it makes sense that in this instance, I don't just see myself as the narrator, but as a part of the story.
It's been almost a year since I started this project, and it feels great to finally share it!! And now, onto the next one!
I started this painting back in June, and just finished it last week. A couple hours ago it was sent on its way and I miss it already! I'm holding off on posting pictures until early October when it has been delivered safe to its new home. Until then, this is a sneak peek!
One fun part of this painting was building a floating frame for the first time. It took a lot of planning and patience, and Nate's carpentry skills.
In other news, this past week I did a lot of Boston things. I went to see my friends in the band Bonfire Blue play at Northeastern on Thursday, and added to my growing list of MLB stadium visits with a game at Fenway on Saturday. Unfortunately we picked the one night that they lost against the Jays, but ballpark food is always tasty and it was bizarrely entertaining to see the fans sing "Sweet Adeline". Other stadiums I've visited thus far: the NY Mets multiple times - both Citi Field and Shea Stadium, the Baltimore Orioles at Camden Yards, the Toronto Blue Jays at SkyDome [now the Rogers Center], and the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field.
On Sunday, I revisited some of my favorite paintings at the MFA and saw lots of others I had never seen before. (L-R):
detail of "Mrs. Charles Inches (Louise Pomeroy)", John Singer Sargent, 1887
detail of "The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit", John Singer Sargent, 1882
"Wreck of the 'Ancon' in Loring Bay, Alaska", Albert Bierstadt, 1889.
"Marina Grande near Sorrento", Sanford Robinson Gifford, 1857
Saturday morning, we went to the Mount Auburn Cemetery in Watertown, where we did an entertaining audio tour. The sound of a galloping horse was the prompt to move onto the next stop. We saw a very moving funeral march with brass musicians and white hankies flying. My favorite part of the visit was running into a timid turkey who let me take his picture while he scrounged around for food. Another highlight was climbing Washington Tower at the top of the hill and seeing Boston from a distance. Who needs Duck Tours when you have cemeteries?
On the bottom right are some of Nate's latest ceramics, Including a bean pot for a co worker, and several mugs.
Officially can no longer relate as literally to Taylor Swift's "22". So far, the day has been sweet. Completed my French Harry Potter book collection with the last four (just finished reading the first three, so just in time), got a volume of all of Jane Austen's novels, and a cookbook from the vegetarian Moosewood Restaurant in Ithaca. Also, treats galore. Chocolate, pumpkin butter, and Cider Mill doughnuts. Mmmmmmm. Thanks to all the well-wishers!
On the Fourth of July, we visited Nate's extended family and got to see my self portrait from a couple years ago, framed and displayed in their kitchen. Nate's uncle did an impeccable job with the framing. I was just thinking about floating frames as I was falling asleep the night before actually. It's amusing that they chose to hang it in the space that it depicts. So while the wood frame matches the chairs and terra cotta in the painting, it complements the actual chairs and terra cotta in the room. It was also amusing that the same company was present this weekend as seen in the painting. Including Whiskers. Sometimes it's hard for me to remember that I didn't actually hold Whiskers' paw. I'm a little skittish when it comes to cats (even Whiskers, who typically has a friendly puppy dog temperament) but it's nice to imagine myself slightly detached from the group, connecting gingerly with a cat and letting go of any apprehensions. However, after attempting to scratch Whiskers' belly this weekend, I would prefer to steer clear of any paw holding!
P.S. The opening for the Regional Exhibition at the Roberson Museum and Science Center is this Sunday evening, and entrance is $5. I'll be there to check it out, feel free to stop by! The show will be up until October 27th.
Another exhibition is on the horizon, this time at the Roberson Museum and Science Center in Binghamton, NY. Both Water's Edge (2013) and Mother and Daughter in Chapel (2012) will be on loan to the museum from July 14 to October 27, 2013. The show is being curated by John Brunelli, director and curator of Anthony Brunelli Fine Arts in Binghamton, NY. Anthony Brunelli has been a huge inspiration of mine since I was a young painter and Roberson visitor, and I can still remember my mom pointing out one of his paintings of Binghamton and explaining that it wasn't a panoramic photo but a painting. I was a teenager at the time and figured she had to be mistaken. Anyway, it goes without saying that Anthony and John have a world of art experience under the belts and I am very excited to be part of a Roberson show curated by the Brunelli Gallery Director. I can't wait to go to the opening in July. And maybe the Lost Dog Café. Mmmmmm..... Geisha cheesecake rolls...
This past weekend, I took a few days off from paintings to visit with my parents and friends, and to go see Alfred senior shows on Saturday. Saw some really tremendous work. All the fresh artwork got me revved and ready to get crackin on this guy!
Hannah Dunscombe is a painter and portrait artist based out of Brookline, MA.