William Kosman - Artiste Peintre

Wednesday, June 01, 2016

#66 - The Richness of the Human Face

                                                "Melodie and Joseph"

                                                   "Melodie and Joseph (detail)"

Fellow Art Lovers:

Of course, as all artists know, a portrait is the most demanding – and sometimes the most rewarding – of any subject a painter can attempt.

I know I’ve been writing about my developing style and freedom at the easel, and how I’ve been influenced by my new neighborhood, where my new studio is located.  But I suddenly wanted do something undeniably sensitive, delicate, something that’s filled with emotion.

As you, my long-term readers and fellow art lovers, know, I’ve done numerous portraits – including self-portraits – in the past. But I haven’t done any in quite a while. So I threw myself into a rather large-format painting of my daughter Melodie, and her son and my grandson Joseph.  

The exercise brought back so many of the lessons I’d learned in the past but hadn’t thought about for quite a while. First of all, I’ve talked so much recently about liberating myself, about the pleasure of finding my groove, forgetting the passage of time while giving my arm, hand and brush or palette knife free reign to move over the canvas.

 Well, for me, if I want to capture some of the richness of the human face, portraits take a good measure of reflection and control. 

And then there’s the issue of success. Achieving success with a portrait for me is not getting all of the details right, attaining photographic accuracy. For me, for my approach with painting, photorealism is not my style of painting, it’s photography.

No, success – in my view – is reflecting the subject’s character and feelings. Having the subject declare:  “You got me.” Showing a person’s depth, humor or playfulness, or warmth or love. Sure, for me, to achieve that, I do need to reproduce certain proportions and other things. But I also need to know what to change or emphasize or diminish.

One thing that painting a portrait has done for me is that I’ve really had to increase my powers of perception. You have to see what is there, every little detail. And then, you have to choose what details you use or adjust. It’s a huge challenge, but often with a portrait, one small brushstroke, the placement of a shift in color or increasing a shadow or gleam, or the tiniest touch – the smallest thing can change the entire face.

And I’m sure that this is the case for many other artists: You do need to have an understanding of the person, the person’s character, on some level. How can you say you want to capture character and emotion, if you don’t know what they are? And success is even harder to achieve when you know that person well, especially when your subject is a family member. 

And then, also, you cannot only face questions about whether you captured the person, but also whether you’ve captured to some extent what that person thinks of him- or herself. The portrait must be a pleasure for the subject to look at.  

A big question, maybe the last question, is when to stop. How many times have I told myself, just one more line here, and then I see that I’ve ruined what I achieved. Lately, I’ve had the attitude that, if I really feel that a painting needs just one more line somewhere, even a bold, significant line, I might hesitate for a while, but I will do it. Better to try, to reach further, than to wimp out.

But when I don’t know that to do, when I believe that something else has to be done, but I don’t know what it is, I tell myself it’s time to stop and think. Or just plain stop. The final moments of a painting can be difficult, because I often don’t know when to stop the clock.

And most recently, I’ve followed another principle: Before declaring a painting completed, I want to look at it and be able to declare that I’ve gotten the most possible out of this painting, I’ve reached as far as I can, given the level of my skill and talent.

Of course, I’d love to hear your opinions. What do you think of this painting, and what feelings come your way? Whatever you have to share, please share it with me, if you have the time.

Thanks for your time and your support.