My Self-Portrait at Sunset will be included in the California Art Club’s 108th Annual Gold Medal Exhibition this year from March 3 - 29, 2019 at the former location of the Pasadena Museum of Art. (Previous Gold Medal Exhibitions were held there.) I’ve been exhibiting a lot of desert paintings and nocturnes and wanted to take this chance to exhibit something different. We crave variety and I think artists intuitively respond to that.
The California Art Club’s 108th Annual Gold Medal Exhibition
March 3 - 29, 2019
490 E. Union Street, Pasadena, CA (former location of the Pasadena Museum of Art)
I try to paint at least one self-portrait a year; it’s a fun challenge to try and come up with a new variation each time - a new light situation that requires fresh seeing and mixing new colors. I painted this at sunset from life; since I only had about 20-30 minutes each evening when the light was where I wanted it, it took me about 6-7 days to resolve it to a point that I liked. Below is a process shot - most important to me was to get the color. I wanted to get a sense of what the situation felt like, the fleeting light that the Impressionists always sought, but I also wanted to achieve a sense of volume and solidity. If this painting had been done from a photograph and not observation, chances are good that there would be some evidence of sunset (i.e. reddening) on the face, shirt, etc., but the darker areas - the beard and hair, the shadow under the hat - would be brown, dark, lifeless. The reflected light along the cheek and jaw in shadow might be a generic out-of-place blue to contrast with the warmth of the light instead of being crucially relative to all the other colors. The background would probably be grayish. Observation has taught me to see that the beard was actually a deep orange-red-violet on the sunlit side, while it cooled to more of a magenta on the shadow side. The pink on my cheeks is a different pink than the one on my neck because they are angled differently towards the light source. The green behind me is a white wall in shadow; it appears this way and shifts from darker and more intense to lighter because of the other colors nearby, and from the fact that it was situated at an oblique angle compared to the picture plane, not parallel to it.
So this was a good challenge in seeing form and light on a human face as represented by color - perhaps a heightened difficulty from landscape painting, because while we’re willing to forgive a strangely placed tree branch, we’re much less inclined to do so if an eye or shoulder is in the wrong spot. We have high expectations of what a figure should look like, but we’ll give landscape a lot more wiggle room as far as what we will accept.
In short, there’s no substitute for painting from observation. It’s also very difficult to paint what we see instead of what we think we see.