It is fashionable in the name of "contemporary art" to look askance at the portrait as some sort of fancy sign painting. For me, painting another human being is the artist's greatest challenge. Have you read D. M Thomas's The White Hotel? We are each a white hotel -a place of many rooms, each with stories and lives, pain and pleasure, mysteries that anticipate themselves, as a serpent devouring his tail.

I must talk to the person I paint. I try to peek into a room or two of the complexity that is human being. The exploration is misleading - I cannot know my subject, but I can get an idea and I try to capture something of my co-conspirators in the work. Sometimes I write stories in the background - telling a little of what my subject told me. For example, in one drawing of Alexandra (a model who came to sit for our sketching group every Saturday morning), I wrote the story of Thelma and Louise. Alexandra had a tattoo which said "Thelma" just above her mons venus. I thought this "Thelma" must be someone dear to Alexjandra, but when I asked, she said no. Rather she and a friend had decided one day, with nothing better to do, to get a tattoo. Neither could think of the right image. They had recently seen the movie "Thelma and Louise." So Alexjandra had the name "Thelma" placed pretty much indelibly on her body, and her friend responded with "Louise." That's what I mean
by the White Hotel.

I weave in images which add to the story. In Family Portrait, I have five monkeys (there were five kids in my family), painted with reference and gratitude to Frida Khalo. In the hand of the monkey peeking from behind my youngest brother's head, there is a tiny cigarette because despite all, he persists in smoking. The references are not always obvious, but they are an attempt to locate special rooms in the singular place that is each of us.

Each portrait is a dialogue between sitter and artist - a dialogue that includes not only what was said, but that which is understood, although perhaps not shared in words.

 
Alexjandra
28" h x 20" w, pastel on paper

Girl in Pink
28" h x 20" w, pastel on paper

Glynis and Alexis
39" h x 33" w, pastel on paper

Hon. Elud Olmert
40" h x 30" w, pastel on paper

Julie
29" h x 20" w, pastel on paper

Mara (Thinking of Frida)
mixed media, 30"h x 50"w
Miss Katherine
28" h x 24" w, oil on canvas

My Family Portrait
48" h x 60" w, oil on canvas
Mr. Drummer II
48" h x 36" w, oil on canvas

Portrait of a Lady
40" h x 30" w, oil on canvas

Sr. B.
29" h x 20" w, pastel on paper

 
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Copyright © Joan Tumpson, 2004. All rights reserved.