Triple Self Portrait (oil, 20×24)
Ron Sanders completed Triple Self Portrait after taking a two-year break from painting. He’d been a successful illustrator and fine artist for many years when health problems and subsequent financial stress threatened his career. After some setbacks, he found work teaching art classes and running a gallery in Sarasota, Florida. “The time off and the gallery experience gave me a more pragmatic attitude toward life as a fine artist,” says Sanders.
Triple Self Portrait conveys his efforts during this difficult period. “The work represents past, present and future,” he says. “The figure seated in the studio signifies the emotional struggle between pursuing my art and attending to the demands of family.” On the wall above the desk hang drawings made by his children as 40th birthday gifts, and a calendar behind the easel indicates the passage of months and years. A self-portrait of Sanders peering out of the computer monitor represents his successful shift from academic painting techniques to plein air and alla prima painting. That work now hangs in the Indiana State Museum. The portrait on the easel represents the uncertainty that Sanders felt about his future. “Representational painting,” says the artist “is about sharing some part of life and our world with others—a way to say, ‘Look here: This is of value.’”
Sanders often begins his studio paintings with a pencil drawing followed by a value underpainting in washes of burnt umber. He then completes the work in full color. When painting en plein air, he brushes his drawing directly on the canvas in burnt umber and then works over the composition with color. “For this painting, the entire scene was drawn out in advance, except for the portrait on the easel in the foreground,” he says. “I carried the canvas into the bathroom and painted that self-portrait directly from my mirror reflection.”
Wide Shut Mouth (oil, 68×77)
“If a painting needs a lot of explanation, it should have been words in a book or a song rather than a painting,” says Russian-born artist Arina Gordienko, who identifies herself in the art world with the single name Arina. “I always hope that my paintings can speak for themselves.” Although Arina modeled for her winning piece, she doesn’t think of it as a self-portrait. “I use my face as an actress does to express emotions or feelings,” says Arina. The artist deliberately altered details of her likeness so as to best depict the feeling she wanted to convey. She’s inspired by painters who access the psychological through portraiture, such as Leonardo da Vinci and Chuck Close.
Choosing to restrict her palette, Arina paints in monochrome to play up the influence of light, dark and middle tones on the forms. She typically accentuates the central black-and-white image with a single color, most often red. “In Russian folk or fairy tales, often the word red is equal in meaning to the word beautiful,” she says. In many cultures, the color red is associated with passion, and, as the artist points out, “the images and objects which have been created with passion can take on an immense power that’s sometimes found in religious art—a kind of powerful energy that has an ability to alter one’s mental state and even transform reality.”
Arina received first place in the portrait/figure category of The Artist’s Magazine’s 2008 Student Competition and has since completed her master’s degree in fine arts at Chelsea College of Art and Design, University of the Arts London. She’s now a full-time artist and says, “For me, painting is like breathing—I just have to do it.”
Aushera (oil, 36×24)
Five years ago, Oleg Radvan purchased some paint and a few brushes and, at age 48, started to paint. He’d undergone many career changes up to that point and was, at the time, making a living renovating houses. Although he had no connections to the art world aside from visiting museums and galleries, he made a sudden decision to devote himself to full-time painting—a decision supported wholeheartedly by his wife and family. “I don’t have any special education, and I didn’t read any specialized literature,” says Radvan. “Instead, I started experimenting with different paints and colors by myself.” He began by painting still life and then moved on to portraiture.
Remarkably, in his short career, Radvan’s work has appeared in more than 20 juried exhibitions (including one in Florence, Italy) and in at least 10 publications. In addition, the artist has received 15 awards in art competitions. “Participation in these events gives me the impetus to create new works because the old ones are no longer interesting to me,” Radvan says. “I see many problems within the old works, but in preparing for a new exhibition or competition, I look forward to creating something more interesting.”
“I enjoy the process of painting portraits very much,” he says. “With just one stroke, I can capture individual characteristics of the person I’m painting and express his or her internal world.” In his painting Aushera, he depicts a strong and intensely focused woman. “Aushera dances ballet, teaches yoga and describes herself as ‘in love with life,’” says Radvan. He chose red as the dominant color in his palette because “red is the color of love, life and fire.”
The Ascent (oil, 55×32)
Five years ago Terry Strickland made the leap from professional graphic designer to full-time painter. “All those T-shirt and package designs, book and board-game illustrations and courtroom sketches helped prepare me,” she says. Her career change freed time for ambitious paintings like The Ascent, which took about six weeks to complete. The work is part of her Building a Life series, which uses the figure in metaphorical scenes that explore the meaning of a successful life. Commenting on The Ascent, Strickland says, “The ladder is found in many cultures and religions as a symbol for spiritual progression, ascension to a higher plane or movement toward a goal.”
Strickland begins her large-scale figure paintings by sketching compositional thumbnails. She then photographs her model, composing the final image using Photoshop. She prints photo enlargements to use as references, but sometimes brings in models for detailed areas like hands. “I generally work from photographs so I can capture small nuances of expression and physically unsustainable poses,” she says. Weekly participation in a life drawing group helps Strickland translate photographs into lifelike figurative paintings.
Javier (oil, 22×30)
Paul Oxborough began his art studies at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design. After one year, he began pursuing a different track in a four-year apprenticeship at Atelier Le Sueur, also in Minneapolis, where he trained in the French academic method. He’s now a full-time painter whose work reflects his admiration for masters such as Anders Zorn, Diego Velázquez, John Singer Sargent and Edgar Degas.
Oxborough painted this portrait of his friend Javier after dining with him one evening. “Capturing Javier’s gentleness of expression was a challenge,” he says. The artist generally completes a painting in about a week, but Javier took longer. “I changed paths a few times along the way,” he says. “The painting started as a double portrait that included my friend Jeff. I dropped him from this piece, but his likeness survives in another version.”
Tom Van de Wouwer
Clody (oil, 12×9)
Around the time Belgian artist Tom Van de Wouwer painted Clody, he was studying paintings by the 19th-century Italian master Antonio Mancini and late portraits by Rembrandt. “The sense of form in those works is so delicate, even though at first sight they look as if they were painted roughly.” Van de Wouwer captured a similar sensitivity in this dramatically lit portrait. Starting Clody with a charcoal drawing lightly colored with paint, he then developed the work with a thin color wash, striving to capture the hues, values and chromas. He completed the portrait by painting over the wash with opaque paint.
“In the end, painting always comes down to staying calm and breaking down the process into a series of small tasks,” says Van de Wouwer. “Whatever is in one’s visual field, no matter how complex, is always lit in a certain way, has a specific overall shape and is seen from a certain perspective. These abstract qualities are crucial to understanding what one sees and to representing it in paint.” In addition to painting, Van de Wouwer teaches private art classes in Sint-Niklaas, Belgium.
Tamera Lenz Muente is the curatorial assistant for the Taft Museum of Art in Cincinnati, where she writes about visual art.
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