Portrait of a Young Man (oil, 24×18)
The haunting presence of Portrait of a Young Man pays homage to Dana Levin’s most compelling influence, the art of Florence, Italy. A graduate of the Art Institute of Chicago, she found her artistic home under the tutelage of Daniel Graves at the Florence Academy of Art, and later Levin founded the New School of Classical Art, a traditional atelier in Rhode Island. Additionally influenced by artists such as Rembrandt and Jean-François Millet, Levin admits she’s drawn to particular painters for either technical or aesthetic reasons, but always because of the pure emotional power of their work.
For Levin, the quality of light has a huge effect on the emotional impact of any painting. “In this painting, I blocked the lower part of one window so the light was coming from a large window high up,” she explains. The light is therefore diffused, which creates a muted effect. The viewer then sees the sitter as temperate and gentle.” Painting directly on the canvas, Levin starts with a palette of lead white, yellow ochre, cadmium red (a vermillion substitute) and ivory black. She uses chrome yellow, English red, transparent red oxide, alizarin crimson, cobalt blue and ultramarine blue, as needed. “I can paint almost anything with those colors,” she says.
Inspired by the thoughtful nature of her subject, a dedicated 20-year-old art student, Levin set out to capture his essence while exploring the idea of youth and the mystery of identity. The artist felt her subject was embarking on a “personal renaissance.” She explains, “His mixed ancestry makes an interesting metaphor for the blending of cultures that is occurring around the globe as technology shrinks the distance between countries.”
The casual feel of Katie Musolff’s Heather on the Couch suggests an intriguing lesson in capturing the familiar, as the subject of this painting is Musolff’s best friend of more than 10 years. “Painting someone you know is very difficult,” she explains. “You have to discard your previous ideas about that person to look at her in a completely different way. With Heather, I had to stop and study her face in a more academically rigorous way. Having said that, I admit to wanting to emulate great portrait painters of the past who used their loved ones as subjects. To be able to communicate that love, that caring—to translate that to canvas—was the ultimate goal.”
Drawing from life, Musolff completed the painting over three months with her subject sitting for sessions once a week, three hours at a time. The original idea for the painting came from another friend’s offhand comment that Musolff spent more time with her models than she did with her friends. With this comment as her inspiration, she could combine her loves of art and of friendship.
Coming from a family of painters, Musolff admits her style has evolved considerably over the years to become more structural. “My early work was much more impressionistic,” she explains, “mainly due to lack of knowledge. Now, I’m more observant and my goal is to be as specific as possible. For example, in this painting there are a lot more facets—the arms show dramatic skin tone subtly modeled around the bone. This attention to structural detail, I believe, will eventually lead to a more simplified and direct aesthetic effect.”
Matthew Almy attributes the languid feeling of his portrait Claudia to the early morning sessions he had arranged with his model. “We had changed the starting time to much earlier than usual, so the model was falling asleep quite a bit,” he explains. “There was also beautiful early morning light coming into our dark studio. The lighting, combined with the drowsy mood we were all in, worked out perfectly.” A lover of Rembrandt and other 17th-century painters, Almy continues to be inspired, as well, by contemporary artists such as friend and fellow painter Joakim Ericsson, his wife, Magda, and his teacher Daniel Graves, all of whom he credits as having a profound influence on his work.
A graduate of the American Academy of Art in Chicago, Almy worked as a painter until 2002, when he and his wife left for Italy to study at the Florence Academy of Art. “I spent many years copying, painting and trying different approaches,” he says. “I really feel the biggest leap I made as a painter was in the years I spent in Florence.”
Preferring to work from life, Almy usually begins each painting with a rough sketch in charcoal, directly onto canvas, where he then starts painting immediately, wet into wet. He works with a limited color palette (although he admits the colors change week to week), taking up to six or seven months to complete a piece. This particular painting took around six weeks. Almy is passionate about painting biblical stories and other powerful narratives. His focus is on working hard as a painter and taking everything day by day. He continues to teach from his studio in Chicago and spends the summers in Europe, where he also teaches.
Joe Figlerski’s self-portrait Critique depicts every artist’s nemesis. “Often we as artists are our own greatest enemies and worst critics,” he explains. “I wanted to show that constant artistic struggle—my own hands symbolically ripping the portrait in half.” Inspired by 17th- and 18th-century art, Figlerski set out to create an Interview With the Vampire-type of setting. He chose a romantic-style shirt for himself and the careful, three-quarter lighting that adds a sense of mystery, hinting at the darker side of the theme. The piece, which took 60–70 hours to complete, provided its own challenges. According to Figlerski, the rendering of the hair was the most tedious part. An interest in computer animation originally set Figlerski on the path to painting. He became a high school art educator and continues to be inspired by his former instructor and mentor, Anthony Waichulis.
A painter of people, landscapes and still life, Diana DeSantis believes each of her subjects has a uniqueness that she strives to evoke. Working from life whenever possible, she establishes her composition with a few gestural lines using vine charcoal on an earth-green Gatorboard. Then she applies the first layer of color to make sure the values are correct. She progresses, using several layers of pastel to create a luminous quality as seen in her portrait Christa. Taking approximately 15 hours to complete, this captivating painting clarifies the essence of her subject. “Christa was a young lady with a love of jewelry and a most magnetic, mature serenity about her, and that’s what I wanted to share with the viewer.”
From graffiti artist to portrait painter, Chris Pugliese’s foray into art has taken many twists and turns. The fact that he looks to the masters of the Italian Renaissance for inspiration is evident in his portrait The Alter of the Mind (with an intentional pun on alter/altar), a piece he completed with Rembrandt’s 1640 self-portrait in mind, which in turn was inspired by Raphael’s portrait of Baldassare Castiglione. Taking approximately 60–100 hours to complete, the portrait, as does any work, presented a number of challenges. The forehead, in this case, proved to be the most trying. “The forms in that area were not as obvious,” he explains. “The way in which the hair cast shadows was very difficult to capture.” Through trial and error, he was able to clear this minor hurdle to create a piercing self-portrait. A teacher at the New York Academy of Art, Pugliese continues to work in his Hoboken studio.
Angela Gilltrap is a freelance writer living in New York City.
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