Thursday, September 27, 2012

Thank You!

photograph credit Chris Lyford
Thank you to Chris Lyford of The Washington Post for the article on AS IS. It was so fun having you visit the studio and the story is beautifully written! You can read it by clicking here if you like.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Under the Weather

John Singer Sargent, Atlantic Storm
Keep your fingers crossed! If the ten day weather forecast is to be trusted, there is a forty percent chance of a storm on October 1st--a.k.a, AS IS install day. I'm choosing to look on the bright side though (pun intended). After all, wasn't today supposed to be grey and miserable too? Well hello there, gorgeous sunny morning! Now, I'm off to the hardware store to pick up something to anchor the portraits against that 6 mile per hour wind :-/

P.S.--Thank you to Emily Friedman of WMAU for the lovely story about AS IS on NPR's Metro Connection! You can read it or listen to a podcast of the program by following this link.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Technical Difficulties

a detail of portrait #9
Keep your fingers crossed, Friends! The ninth AS IS portrait turned out even better than I had planned, but I am experiencing a few technical difficulties with the tenth. I never use a medium to clean my brushes in between mixing colors. Instead, I dip my brushes in linseed oil in between colors and brush any remaining pigment onto a cloth next to my palette. Painting directly with a bit of the old color mixed into the new helps keep the painting process full of surprises, and it gives the final portrait an underlying coherence too. I usually tone the entire canvas in one bold shade before beginning a portrait to further the effect. Whatever color I choose will bleed into the top layers of paint a bit, lending the whole portrait some of the mood of the underlying color. 
 Good. Great.
Thing is, I also usually have the luxury of time on my side. I can tone one canvas, and then work on an other project while I wait a few days for the first canvas to almost fully dry. Sadly, I didn't meet the tenth AS IS subject until I was almost finished with the ninth. AND! The very bright red that I chose to tone his canvas is doing a little too much bleeding into the top layers. OK, a lot of bleeding. Like the man looks like he could be bleeding. Oy vey! 
Wish me luck in the studio today? I think I'm going to need it!

Friday, September 21, 2012

image from
Happy Friday, Friends! Did you catch the radio program yesterday on the graffiti along the Red Line of the Metro? Saaret Yoseph’s documentary, The Red Line D.C. Project, is based on her belief that “in Washington, D.C., the most accessible art form isn’t in the museums. It’s on the Metro.” It was an interesting program with strong opinions on both sides of the tagging issue.

 While the destruction/improvement (depending on your perspective) of private property is obviously a sensitive subject, I have to agree that successful public art is uniquely compelling today because of its accessibility. Context definitely alters the way that we view works of art. While museums have an unquestionably important role, I am attracted to the idea of art that meets you in the midst of your day. In fact, one of the sub-objectives of AS IS is to question the distinction between fine art and street art. By installing traditional, formal paintings on the streets and inviting people to take what might otherwise be considered precious art objects right off the walls and corners of the city, I hope to blur the line a bit and ask whether fine art is really fine if it propped against a dumpster or loading dock. As always, I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Also, if you live in the greater Washington, DC area, you can listen to NPR's story on AS IS today at 1:00 PM on Metro Connection (channel 88.5 for DC folks), and if you are out of town, a podcast of the show will be available online after the program airs.

Enjoy your weekend everyone!

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Friends, I have begun work on the tenth AS IS portrait! Can you guess where in the city I found my subject?

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Why Make a Painting When You Can Snap a Picture Instead?

A reporter recently asked me about my choice of medium for the AS IS portraits. In this age constant documentation, where everyone is snapping pictures of everything, and digital photography makes it all so easy, why would I spend forty to eighty hours paintings someone, she wondered. Wouldn't a photograph do the trick?

I have to admit that I was unprepared for the question. In fact, I am still struggling with the answer. This is in part because I truly admire the work of many artists who work in the field of photography. As far as my choice of medium for portraiture goes though, here are my (1) scientific and (2) philosophical answers: 

1. The emotional centers of our brains prefer blurry.

When I paint a portrait I want it to hit on the essence of who someone is. I am not particularly concerned with recording every freckle and eyelash. 

Have you read this CNN article? (Thank you to Laura Walton Crouch for bringing it to my attention!) This point in particular jumped out at me:
Patrik Vuilleumier at the University of Geneva and colleagues figured out that the amygdala, a part of the brain involved in emotions and the "flight or fight response," responds more to blurry photos of faces depicting fear than unaltered or sharply detailed images. At the same time, the part of our brain that recognizes faces is less engaged when the face is blurry. Cavanagh explains that this may mean we are more emotionally engaged when the detail-oriented part of our visual system is distracted, such as in Impressionist works where faces are unrealistically colorful or patchy.
So, emotionally, we respond more strongly to things which are depicted with less photographic accuracy. My portraits for this project are realistic but they are not photo-realistic. Their palettes and paint applications do not correspond to reality in a literal sense. 

2. The process is as important as the product. 

Touch matters. For a project dedicated to giving the gift of notice, I want the trace of a human hand (mine!) to be evident in the final artwork. Giving connotates a reaching out from one person to another and I want a small trace of that one person (me!) to be uncover able in the gift.

Time spent matters. These paints are large...and they take weeks or even months to make. AS IS has challenged me to offer the gift of notice to everyone that I meet in the course of my day. Sometimes I acknowledge a person with a smile or nod, other times I may paint a five-foot tall portrait of someone and leave it on the street corner for them to find and keep. When the later happens, I think that it is important to spend time reflecting on that person. This doesn't necessarily mean cataloguing the details of someone's life. It means simple concentrating on the fact of someone's existence apart from my own. It is always refreshing and I hope that that attention translates into the finished portraits!

Monday, September 10, 2012

Remember This Guy?

Mr. Keith is one of the maintenance guys that works at THEARC in Anacostia, DC. At one point in his life he was homeless and addicted to crack cocaine. Wanting to do better by his three little kids, he followed a friend to an Narcotics Anonymous meeting to get some help. 
Months later he was no longer picking the stuff up, but was becoming tiered of introducing himself as an addict. He remembered that when he was growing up in the projects, a man used to bring him and his buddy, Junior, along to church. That way, they wouldn't be left hanging around with the older boys in the neighborhood to drink and smoke. The memory inspired Keith to turn to God to help him with his life.
He has been clean for twenty-six years now and has been married for seventeen. He has ten children, some biological and some adopted. When the kids were young, Keith used to take them and any other kids that needed a little love and minding to the zoo, park or basketball court. They would get from one end of the city to the other by bus. Sometimes, his children would complain about having to bring along stragglers. He would explain though that we all need to look out for each other.

Today I had the honor to give Keith this:

 I installed his portrait in the community garden that he helps to maintain at THEARC. When he saw the painting he gave a series of strong hugs and high-fives, and he told me his story. "We all need to look out for each other" he said gesturing to the painting "and that is what your doing here!"

Unlike the other nine subjects for this project (most of whom I will probably never meet), I am so happy to have had the privilege to get to know Keith Cook just a little bit, and to hear his reaction to having his portrait painted. He radiates a sincere goodness that just makes you want to be around him and soak up what he has to say. It would be difficult to find a person who deserves more to be recognized and honored for his bottomless love and his drive to live every day to its fullest. 

I hope that when the rest of the portraits hit the streets on October 1st, they will brighten a few days. I hope that they will let people know that they are seen and that they matter.  I am also pretty sure that there will be portraits that no one will find. There will be paintings that will be rained on, stolen or thrown away...and I've made my peace with that. A gift is only a gift if it is freely given, and I want these portraits to be true gifts of notice. Whatever happens to the other nine paintings though, I am very very happy that Mr. Keith has his.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

photo credit, Leah Moss
 NPR's Metro Connection came to the studio this morning to record a story about AS IS. The interview was so much fun, and I hope that the feature will help all ten people that I have painted for the project be on the look out for their portraits around the city!

Have you ever been interviewed for anything? The reporter asked such good questions, some of which (I confess) left me more than a little tongue-tied! You know how sometimes the perfect answer comes to you long after you have been asked a question? Yeah, me too. As the reporter assured me, sometimes the simplest stories are the hardest to tell. I have confidence though that the team of talented people at WAMU will cobble my painstaking attempts at an explanation for this project into a story worth hearing! You can tune in to channel 88.5 on Friday, September 28th to listen for yourself and be the judge.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Thank you!

Thank you to everyone who came out to the AS IS Sneak Peak on Friday night!!! Apparently, The Dunes had a record number of guests! My apologies to anyone who was turned away at the door.
Portraits are hung. Young Rapids run a sound check
 It was fantastic to be able to share all of the portraits in one place before they hit the streets for good! AND I had a blast painting the Young Rapids live!!!
Thank you Carrie Enzler for taking this shot!
The coolest part of the night though might have been right at the very beginning. Here's what happened:
Thank you to Joe Bentley of the Young Rapids for snapping this picture!
When the Georgetown Patch wrote me last week about running a story on AS IS, I was thrilled.  I sent them a picture per the editor's request that I had snapped of a woman I had painted from the area. I assumed that the reporter would use the image as a source of inspiration for her article, but was surprised to see that the picture was published along with it! 

All's well that ends well though: I was chatting with a couple of early birds to the Sneak Peak when I spotted the subject herself taking in a portrait across the room! Can you imagine how amazing that was?! This woman is such a beautiful person too! She is a gentle soul with a charming southern accent. Her awesome hairdo, incidentally, is all her own, and more importantly, I was overjoyed to hear that she was so moved by the idea behind the project!

In a letter to the editor of the Georgetown Patch, one man wrote the following:
"That is Joy Blair and she has lived in Georgetown for over 50 years. She is a wonderful woman who used to own Blair House Antiques. She helps the homeless and is a joy to all who know her. Thank you for brightening my day with this picture(...)and I am sure she would love to have the painting."

While I offered Joy the option of taking the painting right off the wall that night, she said that she prefers to take it when all the other paintings are installed on the streets October 1st. One of the ideas behind AS IS was to give the gift of notice without regard to compensation (financial, verbal, etc.) That said, this unexpected twist in the plan brought about something beautiful that is all its own.

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