Thursday, August 21, 2008

Commissioned Portraiture (and why it scares me...)

Cheslye Ventimiglia, 2006
pastel, oil, charcoal and pencil on Rives BFK, 29" x 41"

collection Cheslye and John Ventimiglia

King of Swords (John Ventimiglia), 2007
pastel, oil, charcoal, pencil, watercolor and collage on Rives BFK, 29" x 41"

collection Cheslye and John Ventimiglia

King of Swords, detail

King of Swords, detail

A colorful couple...

John V with his sculpture at the faculty show at MECA early this year.

...and why I need to do it anyway...)

In the fall of 06 I was commissioned to do portraits of the four women who were working in the Continuing Studies department at MECA for their catalog. The top pic is my portrait of Cheslye Ventimiglia, the director of CS. Cheslye then asked me to do a portrait of her husband, John Ventimiglia, a sculpture professor at MECA (not the famous actor!). John was my teacher for a year when I was a sophomore at MECA. Having a former teacher sit for me was more than a bit daunting - I felt even more pressured than usual. I typically offer the opportunity for people to bring with them to their sitting some objects that they would like to have incorporated into the portrait somehow. I don't always use everything - and how I use it varies from piece to piece. John brought in so many things for me to add to his portrait - an old photo of the Colosseum, a Napoleonic costume, a sword with a gorgeous handle sculpted by John, a sculpture armature, etc., and he really wanted them all in the piece, right down to the anchors on the buttons of his coat. He didn't want to wear the coat, and wore a faded pink work shirt instead. I decided to make him half wearing and half not wearing the coat. John entertained me the whole time that he sat with his conversation - he's a wonderful storyteller - and I zoomed in on his mouth. I realized that in doing this I was not flattering John, but he and Cheslye purchased the portrait anyway. They said that the portraits now hang side by side in their home, and that they enjoy them very much. But I think, do they really?? Argh. Plagued with doubt.

What scares me is I don't always flatter people. God knows that I rarely flatter myself in my self-portraits. (Once, someone met me after only seeing my self-portraits in a couple of exhibits. He said, "Jeez! You look nothing like your self-portraits! You really do a number on yourself!" And one of my former gallery owners called my self-portraits "relentless.")

Not flattering the sitter in itself doesn't scare me, it's when a piece is commissioned that this gets problematic. Argh! My stomach hurts just thinking about it. But I want to get back to doing portraits, for hire and not for hire. I'm itching to draw people again. I want to set up a salon in my small studio and start a new series of portraits of people in the Portland art scene. I won't do these at the rate that I did my thesis series - I was doing one, sometimes two a day, and I fried myself. Maybe one a week. I can't start this until mid October, after my daughter's wedding, but I'm gearing up, psyching myself, getting ready in my head...

No comments: