Many people over the years have known me as a sculptor, and that’s understandable given the fact that so much of my professional career of over twenty five years has been devoted to the creation of sculpture monuments. Creating secular and sacred sculpture with my wife, Anna, has been a fulfilling and meaningful collaboration. In between sculpture commissions Anna and I have had the opportunity to create our own individual art works. For me, it’s a great opportunity to either create my own sculpture or to create my own paintings. Presently, I’ve been working on a self-portrait in oil.
Painting is my first love. I didn’t do sculpture until much later and my studies from my high school years through my mid-twenties were devoted to learning oil painting techniques through analyzing the great works of the Old Masters. Even though I have a BFA degree from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, I’m primarily self-taught. The directions I wanted to pursue in painting was the complete antithesis of what the art schools were teaching and promoting. At that time, in the 1960’s and 1970’s, abstract art, pop art, photo-realist painting, and conceptual art reigned supreme. As a matter of fact, those styles are still quite prevalent today and are still being encouraged and promoted in nearly every major university and art school with accreditation through the world.
My real teachers in painting have been dead for centuries, but the grand works they left behind are very much alive and exude power and speak with timeless eloquence. After all these years, I can still find inspiration viewing the works of Titian, Caravaggio, Rembrandt, Van Dyck, Velasquez, Vermeer, Claesz and Chardin. These great masters have taught me the importance of drawing and observation. To me, observation from life is essential to the creation of successful figurative painting. I can’t stress fully enough the importance of working from life as much as possible. Unfortunately, too many figurative painters today have relied too heavily on photography rather than working directly from life. I can usually tell when a painter has worked extensively from photographs. The painted images tend to be flat, the application of colors lack nuance, and the contours of the forms have a cut0out hard-edged appearance. In my opinion, it is no coincidence that the greatest figurative paintings were produced before the invention of photography. Using photography in figurative painting and sculpture should always be a last resort. I realize that there are exceptions to every rule and that on certain occasions photographs must be used, especially with posthumous portraiture. I believe the artist who uses the photographic tool most successfully is the artist whose had the most experience working from life.
A great way to challenge one’s observation and technical skills is to paint a self-portrait. My self-portrait journey began with a drawing in 1978. My next self-portraits were in oil paintings in 1985, 1995, and a self-portrait in currently in progress that will be completed in early 2014 (which is above).
All these portraits were done from life while posing in front of a mirror. Painting or drawing a self-portrait is a very demanding and problematic process. Not only am I working with a reverse mirror image, but I’m also playing the double role of “artist” and “model” simultaneously. Another challenge is that I should view myself with honesty and objectivity. It’s also interesting for me to observe how I’ve changed in mood and aged over the years through the self-portrait experience. Self-portraiture can be very humbling and it can remind us of our mortality. But at the same time, It’s reassuring to know that my art work, whether in painting or in sculpture, has given me purpose in life and will eventually survive me as well.