One to Another

July 31, 2009

073109 – Kelly L & Mrs. L

Filed under: --Kelly and Mrs. L, 1-Progress/Sessions — pendantportraits @ 4:28 pm

To prepare for the next session with Kelly L. and Mrs. L, I prepared a special piece of paper. I placed a mat with an oval window (ordered from over a sheet of drawing paper. I sprayed coffee washes onto the exposed oval area of paper, sacrificing the mat in order to use it as a template. When the paper was dry, I removed the template. By lucky accident, the washes bled through the paper and made a pale oval on the opposite side. Spray from the next toned page fell onto this as well and created an aged character (the overspray looks like pocking from water damage).





Subsequently, the front, or ‘recto,’ has a bold, clear oval tone and the back, or ‘verso,’ had a far more subtle one; furthermore, the two ovals line up because they are the same oval. This correlates with my interest to address the mother/son relationship as a recto-verso. I had not previously considered paper as the media for this work; and yet, these sheets were just right. It also gently suggests the disintegration of Alzheimer’s. I even like the ‘starburst’ effect that was created by the drying acting of the wet central area of the paper.

Kelly remembered that I was interested to work with Mrs. L in her wheel chair, for a more upright posture. He let her rest in her recliner that morning, so that when I arrived in the afternoon, she would be comfortable in her wheel chair. We placed her wheel chair so that window light would illuminate her face from the left. I started the image with coffee washes to integrate with the coffee-toned ground, and when these were dry, further developed the image with light pencil work.

When it was Kelly’s turn to pose, he also sat in the wheel chair, which we turned to the opposite angle so that the light would fall on his face from the right. I used dark graphite to create a bold countenance, his ‘guardian’ persona.


July 7, 2009

070709 – Kelly and Mrs. L

Filed under: --Kelly and Mrs. L, 1-Progress/Sessions — pendantportraits @ 11:28 pm


I did six drawings today. Four are on one page of the warm-toned 40 lb. Ingres/Fabriano pastel paper. These include a sketch of Mrs. L., looking to the right; a sketch of Kelly in profile, looking to the left (as he bought and sold things online within his virtual farm); and two sketches of Fritz’ head resting against Mrs. L.’s leg.

Today Mrs. L wore a black-and-white striped top. Kelly and Pat had set her hair in curlers. Fritz was around, nipping at my finger tips, which I like. Kelly says that the sketches capture his mother’s likeness. Of course, she’s not posing, so I’m glad about that. Mrs. L has very high cheekbones and a generously-sized mouth. The profile drawing from today was my best likeness of Kelly. He has a very neat, short salt-and-pepper beard.

The other two drawings are my first ones within ovals (one of Kelly, one of his mom). The drawings are at the top of laid paper that I got in Apt, France in 2002. The paper has an elongated format (8 1/2″ x  4 1/8″).Each drawing is small – the oval is about 3 x 2 1/2″. I added a horizontal line about 1/4″ from the bottom of the oval, and an off-center vertical line behind their heads. The graphic floral wallpaper that’s in the main living area worked its way into the sketches as another unifying factor. I like the sketch of Mrs. L.; the one of Kelly is stiff (and today he looks like Cezanne).

I’ve been thinking about the relationship of the oval to portraiture. Has such a strong connection that it almost seems odd to see something other than a portrait within an oval.

I’ve also been thinking about how companion portraits of mother and son should be different than husband and wife. I came up with the idea of a  recto – verso presentation on a single support; the shared material of the work corresponds with their shared genetic material.

Portrait_KellyMrsL_3abTwo-sided works are usually presented on a pedestal for the viewer to walk around, or they are suspended from the ceiling. In both cases, this allows the viewer to see the front and then the back. It puts time between viewing of the two portraits, which may be conceptually useful as it calls upon the viewer’s memory.

It’s considered sound practice to do the same to the back of the panel as to the front (to minimize warping). The National Gallery of Art mounted Prayers and Portraits: Unfolding the NetherlandishDiptych in 2007 ( Fifteen of these works had images on the back. Usually (though not in all cases), one image was primary and the other served a support role, such as faux porphyry or coat of arms.

In visualizing the child-parent relationship as recto-verso companion works, the images are of equal importance, and like Barthes’ definition of a sign as a coin with faces ‘signifier’ and ‘signified,’ they cannot be separated. The meaning resides in their relationship to one another.

This spring I saw a recto-verso portrait at the Philadelphia Museum of Art with a mirror placed behind it to view the back of the work. The mirror approach presents one portrait for direct viewing and the other one as a reflection. This contrast may also be conceptually useful, as it suggests different states. This particular one plays on painterly illusion rather than using the mirror reflection as content.

Before I left, Kelly and I discussed the next session, which will probably be after I get back from New York City in a week and a half. Kelly said his mom could sit in her wheel chair for a more upright posture at the next session. (In the drawings that I’ve made so far, Mrs. L appears to slouch because she’s in the recliner.)

I took a few digital photos of his mom today and sent the best ones to Kelly when I got home.

June 22, 2009

062209 – Kelly – First Session

Filed under: --Kelly and Mrs. L, 1-Progress/Sessions — pendantportraits @ 3:42 pm

Portrait_KellyMrsL_1In early June, I bumped into Kelly, a fellow SCAD professor, at the grocery store. He thought he had just gotten into poison ivy and was getting something for it, yet we still chatted for a few minutes (that’s just like Kelly). I shared the news that I had received a Summer 2009 SCAD Presidential Fellowship, and I gave him a brief overview of the project.

Kelly ‘got it’ right away, and offered me the option to explore working with his mother and him. Over the last few years, in other impromptu chats, Kelly had shared with me that his parents had Alzheimer’s, and then they moved in with him. His father died last year (2008). He pointed out that his reality, a single child caring for aging parents, is a more common reality now than in the past.

I met with Kelly for an initial session in June before I took a trip home to visit family in Iowa and Minnesota. Kelly gave me a tour of his home, and pointed out the renovations that he’d made so that there would be a full kitchen and master bathroom on the first floor for his parents. He has lots of family photos and other items from his parents’ home around for his mom. He also showed me the huge walk-in closet with his mother’s wardrobe.

His mom sat in her recliner and alternated between small talk and interacting with Fritz, a very perky, 10-month-old dancing Whippet / Dachshund mix. We found that he likes to steal and gnaw on kneaded erasers. I kept calling him Franz because John and I had just finished watching the final episode of Berlin Alexanderplatz the night before.

Portrait_KellyMrsL_4bPortrait_KellyMrsL_4aI did two thumbnail sketches, one of Kelly and one of his mom, on Ingres warm-toned pastel paper. I made larger sketches of them with pencil, charcoal pencil, and white charcoal on gray-toned paper. When I draw Kelly, he looks like a mix of Ed Harris in the role of Jackson Pollock and Max Beckmann. He’s tan from driving a convertible. His mom has really nice hair and she’d just had it styled.

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