For me, truth will always be equated to beauty. It is the imperfections of someone you find yourself caring for (or desiring) that your mind calls forth when thinking of them. That crooked smile, a small scar on the chin from scratching too much during bout of childhood chickenpox. Traditional beauty, the yardstick many use in their aesthetic aspirations becomes generic and boring very quickly.
When the more casual art fan is given a bit of art history, almost always a shorthand is used. The impressionists are reduced down to a bunch of guys with beards who used seductive colors in a lush, hazy sort of way. This was one aspect of it. They were the first (building off of their immediate predecessors Courbet 1819-77, Millet 1814-75) to be showing people as they were. There was no idealization of the denizens of the boulevards and theaters. The paintings are stunning but one encounters broken capillary noses, clothes that need laundering, eyes with lids heavy from lack of sleep. It was the real, every day life as they encountered it, caught on canvas.
Since then, every single painter did not stick to this direction. The impressionists freed up art and from aspects of what they did has sprung a multitude of genres, sub genres. But, there will always be a section of painters out there capturing real life with their brushes and pencils. A favorite painter of mine, Wayne Thiebaud is often lumped in as a “Pop Artist-Painter” because of his subject matter, cakes & candies (his portraits are among some of modern paintings best and he should be better known for these). What makes pop art is not what is portrayed but rather an ironic coolness. Thiebaud is not aiming for this but in the tradition of the impressionist portraying his life and what is in front of him.
One of my first times going to the Musée d’Orsay, a painting which held me before it, showed a man in red pajamas not looking very well as he lay covers pulled up almost to his chest. His skin was very pale but with waxy yellow undertones and little suggestions of green. You know things most likely are not going to end well for him and the painting itself is unpleasant to look at but also beautiful in its execution.
One of my greatest pleasures in life is portraying flesh in my painting. I never want to lapse into mannerisms though and so constantly challenge myself. I portray flesh in all its varieties, hot from a blush, pale from sickness, bruised from some mishap. One of the best self portraits I have done and which is frequently used as my author’s photos shows me with a black eye I got. There is no program or symbolism in any of this for me. For this piece, although one could look at it as encompassing all of 2020, it was just meant as a challenge to myself to show one person’s very bad day, the truth being beautiful in its honesty and execution. Terrible beauty.
Black Shirt Watercolor & Paper 9×12