Turning Points, the September show at the State of the Art Gallery, which I will share with Marian Van Soest, will include portraits and figurative work in addition to landscape paintings. Although from time to time I have painted my family, and fellow artists at work and play, this is new subject matter for me to exhibit. This past year I focused on a serious study of the proportions and relationships of the human body. These portraits are the result of this learning experience and represent a work in progress. Almost like practicing handwriting, the face and figure becomes a new alphabet to say some things that I have wanted to say with paint, but not had the skills to do so. Painting nature in all of its dramatic variations is exciting, and makes people happy. However if the role of the artist is to portray the world around us as it is, the artist will have to confront not just the beauty of nature, but the various conditions of the people in it, document their history, some of the difficulties that they have faced as well as the messes and problems that they create.
Among my role models in this endeavor have been Kaethe Kollwitz and Jacob Lawrence. Kollwitz’s work is infused with empathy for the less fortunate. Her etchings and lithographs offered an eloquent and often searing account of the human condition, and the tragedy of war. Lawrence concentrated on depicting the history and struggles of African Americans. His most famous series was the Great Migration, which documented the development of the northward diaspora in the early 20th century.
Although I don’t have the skills those two artists had, and probably should not use their styles and techniques as my standard, I look towards them as people who took their responsibility to leave the world a better place very seriously. I, too, need to use my canvas as a vehicle of social responsibility. Hunger, war, pollution, inequity, grief, anger, fear, are some of the things that our society likes to sweep under the carpet, and avoid thinking about. Especially if we don’t experience these conditions ourselves, we can come to the conclusion that they don’t even exist. It is important to keep all aspects of the human experience in the forefront of our consciousness. My goal is to make an image, even if unpleasant, compelling enough so that people will not turn away In disgust, but will sit with the image and contemplate the idea behind it. Well, I’m not quite there yet. I have practiced with my friends, family, and colleagues. The portraits in this show are people in comfortable circumstances. So far, I’ve worked with expressions of thoughtful introspection, and happy smiles in my effort to learn the script of the face, so to speak, to understand skin tones, proportions and relationships of the structures of the face. This show is a turning point. I have rounded the corner, and I am going down a new road.