While Jonathan Gladding doesn?t have to travel to faraway places in search of artistic subjects, it certainly doesn?t hurt. A member of the Peace Corps, he taught woodworking in Laborie, St. Lucia, in the British West Indies. While there, he became inspired by the schoolchildren. “Every morning they assembled for prayers and announcements,” he says. “The brightness and warmth of the morning light is a good analogy for the warmth that these children brought to my days.”
Before going to St. Lucia, the Centerville, Massachusetts, artist worked in a cubist, more abstract manner, but felt a more realistic approach would help him better capture the people and the environment. To help him with this approach, he works with digital photography, and sometimes combines images or tweaks them on his computer. For large pieces with lots of figures like Assembly (above, right), he used a carpenter?s chalk line to make a grid with 4-inch squares. After gridding the canvas he did a fairly detailed pencil sketch and then laid in the general colors.
“I usually spend a week or two on a painting,” says Gladding, “but this one required more like four. Also, it took a while to muster the nerve to start a painting with so many faces, but eventually I realized that instead of painting smaller paintings week after week I could just as easily spend those weeks on a larger, more memorable piece.”
Because he doesn?t always have the luxury of working in a studio—especially when he was in St. Lucia—he uses acrylic paints for their convenience and fast drying time, and uses canvas he can roll up as he travels on public buses.
“My favorite part about this project was when I first brought Assembly to the school to show the children,” he says. “They were literally jumping up and down and laughing as they identified each schoolmate.
“The art I?m doing now tells a story, specifically of the character and way of life of my adopted home and its people,” he says. “I believe that no matter where I was I?d feel a need to be creating, but I?m very happy I?m able to come upon a subject matter as compelling as this one is to me.”