The Outwin 2016 - Opening Party

Below are photographs from our opening party on March 11, 2016. Congratulations to all the artists!

"The Outwin 2016: American Portraiture Today" is on view from March 12, 2016 - January 8. 2017 at the National Portrait Gallery.

The finalists of the Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition (not all are pictured).


Artist Amy Sherald was awarded first prize for her work Miss Everything.  She is pictured here with "The Outwin 2016: American Portraiture Today" curator Dorothy Moss.




The Outwin 2016 - opening March 12

The Outwin 2016: American Portraiture Today

Our Design and Production team is hard at work installing "The Outwin 2016: American Portraiture Today." The exhibition opens on Saturday, March 12, 2016!

Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition Finalists Announced

The Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery has selected the finalists for the exhibition resulting from the Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition. The juried exhibition’s 43 pieces include sculptures, mixed-media pieces, photographs, paintings and drawings. The works will be exhibited at the museum from March 12, 2016, through Jan. 8, 2017.

Seven artworks were shortlisted for this fourth occasion of the Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition. The first prize winner receives $25,000, as well as a commission to create a portrait of a living individual for the museum’s permanent collection. Other cash prizes will be awarded for selected works. Winners will be announced at the press preview slated for March 10. A list of artists whose works were selected for the exhibition follows at the end of this release.

The selected finalists mark a turning point in advancing American contemporary portraiture. The jurors considered this exhibition a synopsis of historical and cultural events that have unfolded in the past three rounds, particularly in terms of race, sexual identity, gender and concerns about protecting childhood in an age of technology and gun violence.

“I was very impressed with the social-impact choices made this year,” said Kim Sajet, director of the National Portrait Gallery. “This year’s competition finalists are truly remarkable and reflect the rigor with which they were chosen by the judges. Each judge came with a definite and strong point of view about what he or she considered a portrait to be and how today’s artists are part of the national dialogue around issues of race, identity, family and community. I defy anyone coming to the exhibition not to be fundamentally moved by this year’s interpretation of the human condition.”

The competition received more than 2,500 entries in a variety of visual-arts media. Submissions included digital animation and video, large-scale drawings, prints, photographs and Sept. 22, 2015 SI-427-2015 textiles, as well as painted and sculpted portraits. It was open to artists working in the United States who had created portraits after Jan. 1, 2014, in any visual art form.

External jurors for the competition are Dawoud Bey, professor of art and a Distinguished College Artist at Columbia College in Chicago; Helen Molesworth, chief curator at MOCA LA; Jerry Saltz, senior art critic, New York magazine; and John Valadez, a LA based realist painter and muralist. National Portrait Gallery staff on the jury are Brandon Brame Fortune, chief curator, and Dorothy Moss, associate curator of painting and sculpture and competition director.

Held every three years, the Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition was made possible by benefactor Virginia Outwin Boochever (1920–2005), a former Portrait Gallery docent who volunteered at the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery for 19 years. Boochever also shared the museum’s increasing interest in the important role that contemporary portraiture could play in the life of the gallery, as well as in heralding the museum’s engagement with figurative art and portraiture in today’s world.

The exhibition reveals that in this media age—where the “selfie” is part of the visual landscape—the art of portraiture is not only universal, it is thriving and evolving. The dazzling variety of media and diverse approaches to the exploration of “self” and “other” challenge the preconceived notions of portraiture and expand the limits of the imagination.

In addition, one exhibiting artist will win the People’s Choice Award, which will be announced Sept. 20, 2016. In this part of the competition, visitors to the exhibition, both online and in the gallery, will be able to cast a vote for their favorite of the finalists.

The competition has accelerated the careers of participants. The winner of the first competition (2006), David Lenz, created a portrait of Eunice Kennedy Shriver for the museum’s collection. Dave Woody, who was awarded the top prize for the second competition (2009), was commissioned to create a portrait of Alice Waters and Bo Gehring, whose video portrait won the third installation (2013), was commissioned to create a video portrait of Esperanza Spalding. After the exhibition closes in Washington, D.C., for the first time it will travel to three host museums across the country from February 2017 through June 2018.

Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition Finalists and Short-listed Artists:

John Ahearn, New York City

Dean Allison, Penland, N.C.

Wendy Arbeit, Emeryville, Calif.

Rick Ashley, Marblehead, Mass.

Evan Baden, Albany, Ore.

Claire Beckett, Jamaica Plain, Mass.

Claudia Biçen, San Francisco Kelly Carmody, Waltham, Mass.

Marti Corn, Houston

Paul D’Amato, Riverside, Ill.

Ray DiCapua, Storrs, Conn.

Tim Doud, Washington, D.C.

Maureen Drennan, Brooklyn, N.Y.

Jess T. Dugan, St. Louis *

Gaspar Enriquez, San Elizario, Texas

Lucy Fradkin, Staten Island, N.Y.

Jona Frank, Santa Monica, Calif.

Rigoberto A. Gonzalez, Harlingen, Texas

Allison Janae Hamilton, New York City

Jessica Todd Harper, Merion Station, Pa. *

Anne Harris, Riverside, Ill.

Clarity Haynes, Brooklyn, N.Y

Cynthia Henebry, Richmond, Va. *

Sedrick Huckaby, Fort Worth, Texas *

Dave Jordano, Chicago

Riva Lehrer, Chicago

Jarod Lew, Beverly Hills, Mich.

Daniel McInnis, Perrysburg, Ohio *

Michael Meadors, Clayton, N.C.

Dean Mitchell, Tampa, Fla.

Thu Nguyen, Honokaa, Hawaii

Tim Okamura, Brooklyn, N.Y.

Christine Osinski, Ridgefield, Conn.

Paul Oxborough, Excelsior, Minn.

Louie Palu, Washington, D.C.

Joel Phillips, Oakland, Calif. *

Adrian “Viajero” Roman, Brooklyn, N.Y.

Amy Sherald, Baltimore *

Carolyn Sherer, Birmingham, Ala.

Donita Simpson, Royal Oak, Mich.

Mike Smith, Johnson City, Tenn. Naoko Wowsugi, Washington, D.C. Brenda Zlamany, Brooklyn, N.Y


*Denotes artists who were selected for the short list.


Semifinalist Judging

Stay tuned for the Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition 2016 semifinalists announcement. The jurors have met for the first round and announcements will be made by April 1. The second jury meeting to select the prizewinners and finalists will take place in September.

Bo Gehring: Reminding Us to Slow Down

Esperanza Spalding is a very busy person. A three-time Grammy Award-winning musician, she captivates audiences on the international stage, from New York to Rio and Tokyo to Paris. She’s played everything from button-down jazz festivals to black tie evenings at the White House. Such is the life of a rising jazz icon. In her portrait session with Bo Gehring, winner of our Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition 2013, Spalding found a welcome moment of contemplation. A camera slowly passed over her body, while a favorite song by Wayne Shorter held the air. When it was over, she thanked Gehring for “reminding me to slow down and enjoy life.”

Bo Gehring came to portraiture from a career spanning engineering, Hollywood animation, 3D-sound design, and metal sculpture. After a project making casting patterns for a building in lower Manhattan, he found himself with an industrial-sized milling machine on his hands—a precision-guided tool used to machine materials into exacting sizes and shapes.

With its computer-guided positioning and speed control, he realized the machine could move a camera with unparalleled precision. “The idea just came to me in a second. The machine is so big—the size of a double bed basically—one could easily recline in it.” He could move a camera over a person’s entire body from toe to head with mathematic smoothness. And by positioning the camera extremely close—closer than the human eye can focus—breathing, pulse, and stitches of clothing are brought into intimate view.

Bo Gehring is an avid music listener, so naturally it is central to his portraiture. He feels strongly in the emotional power of music: that a song can tap into and help reveal a person’s deeper self. Before entering his camera contraption, a subject is instructed to pick a song—a track he or she loves and feels especially connected to. Spalding chose Wayne Shorter’s “Tarde” from his 1974 album Native Dancer, featuring Shorter on tenor saxophone, Milton Nascimento on vocals, and Herbie Hancock on electric piano. She selected the song because “Herbie, Wayne, and Milton are part of me.”

Gehring first came to the National Portrait Gallery’s attention with his video portrait Jessica Wickham, which won first prize in the museum’s 2013 Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition. In the portrait, Wickham, a precision woodworker, is dressed in her work clothes. Her chosen music, “Cantus in Memory of Benjamin Britten” by Arvo Pärt, builds slowly in grand, sorrowful chords. As the camera moves slowly from her orange crocs, to her corduroy pants, and then to her head, she is seen immersed in the music, gazing towards the camera, and then emptily away. “I’ve seen it a hundred times and still tear up when it plays,” says Gehring.

Winning the Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition not only netted Gehring a $25,000 cash prize and his work displayed in the National Portrait Gallery, but it also came with the opportunity to do a commission for the museum. This was the path that led him to Esperanza Spalding.

Gehring says he was not very familiar with Spalding’s music, but the two seemed to connect quickly, as artists sometimes do. Of the portrait process, he said “She got this in one second. She took a look at it, and I didn’t have to explain anything. She just started getting into the camera.” With Gehring’s love of music and the central role it plays in his portraits, Gehring’s portrait process  was a natural fit between artist and subject.

Esperanza Spalding, who also has a fashion blog, wore an outfit well suited for the close-up nature of Gehring’s portraits. Her skirt, made by Tara St. James of Study, a New York–based ethical brand, was meticulously constructed from sustainable materials—it is almost quilt-like, made of tiny earth-toned patches of fabric. As the camera slowly moves along, the fabric becomes infinite and immersive. Says Gehring, “It’s like watching a thousand paintings go by as the music plays.”

Esperanza Spalding’s portrait can be seen on the National Portrait Gallery’s YouTube page and will be on display in May 2015 in the museum’s galleries.

Can you envision your work on the walls of the National Portrait Gallery? Visit the Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition and learn how to submit your portrait for the 2016 competition.  The call for entries ends November 30, 2014.

- Benjamin Bloom, National Portrait Gallery

OBPC Juror Dawoud Bey at The Arts Club of Chicago

Dorothy Moss and Dauwood Bey

Dorothy Moss, associate curator of painting and sculpture and director of the Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition, discussed portraiture with OBPC 2016 juror Dawoud Bey at The Arts Club of Chicago on the evening Monday, October 27. Dawoud shared his approach to photographic portraiture, his thoughts on contemporary portraiture and the role of the museum as a community center, and insights into what makes a successful portrait. He said that as a juror he will be looking for thoughtful work that creates an experience for the viewer.

Could Your Work Be the Winner?

2013 Competition Hall

Dorothy Moss thinks so. As director of the Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition at the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery, she coordinates the triennial competition that brings in more than 3,000 entries from artists working throughout the United States and its territories. There is no predicting what she’ll receive.

In past years, entries have ranged from video projections to works on canvas to a sculpture crafted from 100 pounds of rice. Artists may offer a true likeness of their subject or deconstruct the self or the sitter in a purely abstract composition. From the professional to the self-taught, from emerging to established talents, the artists have one goal: to wow the jurors with either a depiction of themselves or someone they have physically encountered. With so few limitations and no preconceptions about what makes a winner, Moss, who is associate curator in the Portrait Gallery’s Department of Painting and Sculpture, believes that everyone has a fair chance.

The winner of the competition receives $25,000 and a commission from the Portrait Gallery to create a likeness of a noted American. Bo Gehring (above), the 2013 recipient of this honor, recently completed a video portrait of jazz artist Esperanza Spalding for the collection. Cash prizes are also awarded to the second and third place winners, as well as up to four additional entrants for commendable work. And one of the greatest perks is that the Portrait Gallery exhibits works by the top fifty finalists.

Moss acknowledges that the excitement of the artists as they view their works installed at the Portrait Gallery is exhilarating, but it is also a learning experience for even the most seasoned of curators: “There is always something unusual that changes our perception of portraiture and sheds light on our permanent collections.” For the next competition, in 2016, the competition show will also travel to other venues.

Why would an already acclaimed museum like the National Portrait Gallery put its energy and resources into sponsoring such an open competition? Apparently, a former volunteer named Virginia Outwin Boochever wondered—why not? Boochever, a portrait enthusiast, made a generous gift to endow this program that fosters innovation. And it has turned out to be a valuable experience for both entrants and staff. Moss explains that “the competition brings public awareness to under recognized and little-known artists and allows curators to examine the broader concept of identity and see new trends in portraiture.”

With a pool of submissions from a country as large as the United States, the material mirrors the diversity and complexity of our citizens—and our democracy. It, like the Portrait Gallery’s permanent collection, puts a face on who we are both as individuals and as a nation.

The jurors of the 2016 competition are looking to be surprised, impressed, moved, and entertained by the submissions. In addition to Moss, they include Kim Sajet, director of the Portrait Gallery; Brandon Brame Fortune, the Portrait Gallery’s chief curator; Dawoud Bey, a photographer and professor of art and distinguished artist at Columbia College in Chicago; Helen Molesworth, chief curator, Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; Jerry Saltz, art critic for New York magazine; and John Valadez, a painter, muralist, and photographer in Los Angeles.

Can you envision your work on the walls of a national museum? If you have the creativity and passion to reshape the future of portraiture, click here to submit your entry electronically. The due date for the 2016 competition is November 30, 2014.

- Amy Pastan, for the National Portrait Gallery


Call for Entries for 2016 Portrait Competition

Photo of the competition submission hall

Enter the 2016 Ourwin Boochever Portrait Competition! Call for entries begins August 1, 2014 and continues through November 30, 2014.

Portrait of an Artist: Aaron Brown

Q: Where are you from, where do you live now?

A: I’m originally from Wichita, Kansas, and currently somewhere in the country just outside of Selinsgrove, Pennsylvania.

Q: What medium(s) do you work with?

A: My preferred medium is oil on canvas or panel, but I have worked with most traditional media, and occasionally experiment with mixed media for both painting and drawing

Q: Tell us about your technique/creative process.

A: The idea for a painting or drawing always starts as a “living collage” in my head, which in turn becomes my working reference. I bring disparate images together to form a new and cohesive whole—an intersection of observation and imagination.

I use photographs since the nature of my chosen subjects usually demands it, but I have extensive experience working from life and interpret the photo according to the vicissitudes of my memory. Essentially, I render the idea in a faithful manner, although I tend toward mild abstraction, and I allow the paint to speak in its own voice.

Q: What is your background (education, career, etc.) and how does it contribute to your art?

A: The influences of my formative years came primarily from my family. Both of my parents are artists; they were amicably divorced when I was very young. My father is both a photographer and a painter of abstract landscapes, and this duality has profoundly influenced my work. I spent a lot of time watching him project film and develop photographs, and the environment of the darkroom always seduced me with its magical, alchemical quality.

There is a sense of poignant mystery that surrounds a photograph, a kind of ineffable longing, which haunts me and my work. All the more so, now that traditional photography is fast becoming a relic of some seemingly distant age.

In terms of art, I was mostly familiar with the work of classic illustrators, and my favorites were among the more eccentric (Fritz Eichenberg, Edward Gorey) and fanciful (Eastern European fairy tales illustrated by Ivan Bilibin, the original Oz illustrations of W. W. Denslow and John R. Neill).I had a natural inclination toward narrative forms of representation, which led me to an early and persistent interest in the theater. The painters I admired tended to be Old Masters.

When I finally decided, relatively late in the game, to study art in an academic setting, I had a crash course in art history, and quickly became familiar with contemporary art and issues. It was both a revelation and a blitzkrieg for my sensibilities.This experience has been incorporated into my work as well, on a subliminal level. My tendency is to use urban and institutional settings (countered by the insistent presence of the human figure). The internal, almost mythological struggle between forces of idealism and disillusionment stem from my days as a nontraditional student, as well as the ecstasies and traumas of childhood.

Q: Tell us about the piece you submitted to the competition.

A: The portrait depicts Lilly, the daughter of an old friend, in a moment of acting for the camera. Ironically, she was pretending to be an artist at an opening. I relocated her to a vintage department store, and in that setting her gesture becomes something more personal, like a silent offering or supplication.

Q: Tell us about your larger body of work.

A: I am developing a body of paintings that tend to focus on a single figure in an environment, although this is not a strict limitation. I’m attracted to the power of the human figure to transform the implications of a particular setting, from something that has a certain range of associations, to a vastly more complicated and ambiguous labyrinth. The impetus is in the tension between the figure, which is an ambassador to vast reservoirs of emotion, and the surrounding environment, which represents the machinations of the mind.

Q: What are you currently working on?

A: I just finished a large painting of a boy in a forest. The unadulterated landscape setting is something I have never tried before.

Q: How has your work changed over time?

A: For more than a decade following graduation, I worked in a manner that could be described as contemporary magic realism. The emphasis was on exactitude, in order to render a dreamlike atmosphere of displacement. My subjects ranged from multifigure narratives to animals in domestic interiors to nontraditional still-life tableaux.

At various points throughout the years, I have had a sudden and strong urge to experiment with different approaches and have even invented alter egos to serve as outlets for separate bodies of work. After a series of setbacks, mostly due to a run of disappointing shows and a major relocation from Kansas to Pennsylvania, I again felt the need to reexamine my priorities and working habits. The result of this is my current body of figurative work.

Q: What inspires you?

A: I’m inspired first by the dazzling visual complexity of the waking world, the sheer abundance of beauty and horror. Walking down the street, I’m in a constant state of silent amazement, taking in the compendium of shapes and colors.

Like Alice through the looking glass, I’m completely bewildered by the reflections of shop windows, which offer an entire parallel universe of visual delights. I’m aghast and enthralled by the capacity of humans to create such vast oceans of tenderness and cruelty. The outrageous spectacle of human history hangs like a tapestry across the sky.

I’m also in love with the two-dimensional world. I’m always searching in the field of the picture plane for a combination of space and flatness, degrees of which are completely unknown to me; this makes for an elusive target.

Most of all, I’m inspired by the power of imagination: the ability to integrate all of these things and more into a new and imperfect whole, to take whatever the world has to offer, melt it down and reconstitute it, and bathe it in the strange light of the mind.


Portrait of an Artist: Carole Feuerman

Q: Where are you from, where do you live now?

A: I was raised in Hollis Hills, Queens, and Liberty, New York. Now I live in Soho and in Fort Lauderdale.

Q: What medium(s) do you work with?

A: I work with a variety of mediums, including bronze, resin, marble, and paints of all kinds, as well as printmaking, photography, and video.

Q: Tell us about your technique and creative process.

A: My work never just mimics the human body. I want the work to take the body to another level. The model’s emotions embody the story that I am trying to tell. After a model poses for me, I both sculpt and life cast a sculpture of his or her body as a starting point. By hand, I then sculpt it until I have reached the image I have in my mind, and the story I am trying to tell becomes a reality.

Q: Tell us about the piece you submitted to the competition.

A: General Ragin is a man I have known for over twenty years. He works as an attendant in the parking lot I use near my home. I witnessed firsthand how the birth of his daughter Syntonia instantly transformed his world. She was a gorgeous baby and lit up his life.

I knew from the time she was an infant that I wanted to make a portrait of her. When she was three-and-a-half years old, I attempted to have her pose for me; however, she could not sit still. I watched her grow up, waiting until she was old enough to pose for me again.

Finally when she turned sixteen, she came to my studio again. My sculptureGeneral’s Daughter captures that special moment when she changed from a young girl to a young adult. The experience has resonated with Syntonia and inspired her to state, “I came to an understanding of who I am and that I love artistic work.”

Q: Tell us about your larger body of work.

A: Physicality is a huge part of my work. The hyperrealistic style of my art is what creates the physicality for which my sculptures are known.

The realism stems from my desire to portray real emotions and physical states of being—from peaceful serenity to energy, equilibrium, and vigor. My focus is on bathers and swimmers because I feel that the element of water reinforces the physicality of the work.

Q: What are you currently working on?

A: My newest works will be collectively on view for the first time during a spring solo exhibition at Jim Kempner Fine Art. The exhibition will include The Golden Mean, my sixteen-foot bronze diver, which will be in the gallery’s sculpture garden; Quan, a five-and-a-half foot monumental painted bronze and stainless-steel sculpture; and Infinity, my first sculpture to hang from a ceiling.

During the summer of 2013, I returned to the Venice Biennale to showcase my latest monumental works at the entrance of the Biennale with the Concilio Europeo dell’Arte and with an additional exhibition at the historic Palazzo Bembo with the Global Art Affairs Foundation.

I am also working more and more on outdoor and public sculptures. I just received a commission for a Double Diver, which will stand thirty feet tall; I will make it in my sand-casted painting with fire technique. This is when I pour, drip, splash, and spray a variety of molten metals at two thousand degrees into the sand casts to create an organic one-of-a-kind work of art.

I also just received a commission for create the portraits of two children riding on a four foot stainless-steel swan. I am going to cast the children in stainless steel and paint the steel in my hyper-realistic style. The piece will be installed in the middle of a lake and will look like the children are floating on the swan atop the lake. I am very excited about both commissions.

Q: Tell us about a seminal experience you’ve had as an artist.

A: John T. Spike invited me to exhibit two monumental sculptures for public exhibition at the 2007 Venice Biennale. I had never created a monumental sculpture before. He chose two of my early swimmer sculptures for me to make monumental in size.

This was a great opportunity to show my work publicly. Two hundred and fifty-five thousand people saw my work in the Biennale. People even waited in line to see it. It was the beginning of my working with public art.

Q: What inspires you?

A: People inspire me. Great artists inspire me. Perseverance inspires me. Achieving grace and balance in life inspires me. I make my sculptures about people who are comfortable in their own skin. As the art historian John Spike said, "Feuerman knew that the flipside of junk-food culture was a new awareness of ‘wellness.’” The World Health Organization stated in 1970, the decade in which I began making my sculptures, that health embraced a total package of “physical, mental, and social well being, not merely the absence of disease or infirmity”: in other words, a sound mind in a sound body.

Forty years ago, showing a healthy, intelligent woman was a radical departure in contemporary art. Now it is a widely accepted ideal, yet most contemporary artists don’t explore this topic—at least not in figurative art. My realistic style allows me to present a universal moment to which every viewer can relate.

I explore emotional dimensions where the sculpture depicts not just one frozen second but an infinite and universal state of being. Underlying the realistic daily activities depicted in my sculptures are common threads of experience that connect us to one another. Life inspires me.


Portrait of an Artist: Katie O’Hagan

Q: Where are you from, where do you live now?

A: I’m from the far north coast of Scotland originally. I came to New York in 1993 right after college and now I live about an hour north of the city, in Beacon, New York.

Q: What medium(s) do you work with?

A: So far I only work in oil.

Q: Tell us about your technique/creative process.

A: I guess the style is realism, but the process is a lot less organized and academic than many realist artists. I don’t have any hard and fast rules and it’s a fairly instinctive process. . . .  I just start right in with the paint. Usually I begin with one eye and get that down as accurately as I can. . . .  As long as that first eye is the right size and in the right place then I know I can get the rest of the painting the way I want it. . . . . It’s not the way an art school would teach to do it, but being self-taught I didn’t know any better, and now it works for me. My few attempts at beginning in a more traditional way—starting with a drawing of some kind—have never turned out well. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend this approach to other people, but it’s the only way I know.

As for the rest of the creative process, I usually spend at least a couple of hours a day running in the woods with my dog. That’s when most of the ideas come together. Sometimes they just land in my head fully formed out of nowhere, but more often I get fixated on a location, or a feeling—sometimes even an interesting-looking person I’ve met—and it just rattles around in there for a while and before too long I have a light bulb moment about a way to convey the thought visually

Q: What is your background (education, career, etc.), and how does it contribute to your art?

A: I came late to painting. I did go to art college in Edinburgh,  . . .  but I found the painting department very intimidating. . . .. I had always been good at drawing and wanted to learn to paint realistically but that didn’t seem to be the focus of the department. I took silversmithing instead and never did any painting at college.. . .

When I left college I moved immediately to the States. I didn’t really have a plan, and I had no job lined up and no place to live. . . . I got a waitressing job right away and was lucky enough to get on my feet pretty quickly.  The next decade-plus was spent having fun and working mainly in the film and television industries. . . .

I never had the time or resources to take any classes, so I bought a couple of books and I began to teach myself through a process of trial and error.

Q: Tell us about the piece you submitted to the competition.

The process of painting Life Raft really changed things for me. It was very different from anything else I had done, and I was incredibly self-conscious about it. In fact I was so embarrassed about what I was doing that I turned the painting to the wall whenever I left the studio, just in case someone came in and saw it. It was just so personal and overwrought.

Although I really did feel that way, there was also an element of melodramatic humor that I wasn’t sure would come across, so I resolved never to show it to anyone. There was no option to not paint it, though. I woke up with the idea during a very intense time in my life. My marriage had suddenly unraveled . . . and I was still trying to come to grips with all of the changes that were about to happen.

I had just finished turning my garage into a great studio, and I took refuge there.  I went to the woods behind my house with a saw and cut branches to make the raft. I realized it would be the last painting I would be able to do before everything changed permanently, and so painting it was quite emotional. It was also a way for me to be still during all of the upheaval and to process what was happening. I guess it took my old life exploding to reveal a way forward.

I finished the painting the night before I had to pack up my studio and move. On impulse I posted it online and was surprised at the positive response. Putting that first really personal piece out there was very scary, but I’m glad I did it. Since then I’ve really changed direction and it’s getting easier, although it’s still very new for me. I’m developing an approach that feels more meaningful than the work I was doing before. I have a lot still to learn about how to effectively communicate my ideas, but I’m engaged with the work and the creative process in a whole new way.

Q: How has your work changed over time?

A: Up until a couple of years ago I really only did portrait commissions.  I’m still primarily interested in figurative work, but these days the subjects have become more personal and less traditional. One of the frustrations of painting in such a realistic way is that it takes quite a long time. I have way more ideas than I have time to paint, so going forward I hope to experiment more with ways to help solve that dilemma stylistically. I don’t anticipate any radical departures from realism, but I want to look at ways to create more work than I am currently able to do.

Q: Who is your favorite artist?

If I had to pick just one, it would have to be Burt Silverman. You would be hard-pressed to find an American figurative painter who doesn’t consider him to be an influence. He has been producing work of such a high quality for a long time, during a period of time in America when this type of work was disregarded, he really is an icon to a lot of us. His was the first book I bought, and I was thrilled to later have the opportunity to meet him and participate in several group shows with him—including the Boochever show.

Q: If you could work with any artist (past or present) who would it be?

A: Past would be Lucian Freud, and present would be Jenny Saville. There is a similar raw energy to their work. My own work is nothing like theirs, but I think I could learn a lot from them.

Q: What inspires you?

A: I’m inspired by all kinds of random things. Sometimes it’s a lyric I hear in a song, or an outfit I see someone wearing, or an unusual face on the subway. Other than making sure I get outside as much as possible, I don’t have any go-to methods of finding inspiration. It just happens when it happens and I just have to be ready to grab those fleeting thoughts and figure if they are worth making into something.

Portrait of an Artist: Willard Dixon

Q: Where are you from, where do you live now?

A: I was born in Kansas City, Missouri in 1942. I now reside in San Rafael, California.

Q: What medium(s) do you work with?

A: Oil on canvas; charcoal or pastel on paper.

Q: Tell us about your technique/creative process.

A: My landscapes and portraits are usually based on photos; the still-lifes I paint directly from setups in my studio. I look primarily for a subject that moves me emotionally in some way. In my mind’s eye, though not specific, I have a kind of vision of the finished painting. I am looking for possibilities that I sense in the subject, a certain resonance and open-endedness.. . . I like to work in series, the paintings feeding off one another as I progress.

Q: What is your background (education, career, etc.) and how does it contribute to your art?

A: I studied briefly at the Art Students League in New York City when I was a teenager, later attending the Brooklyn Museum School of Art. I have an MFA from the San Francisco Art Institute, where I received the bulk of my schooling.

The two main currents at that time were abstract expressionism and the California figurative movement, neither of which I seemed to connect with. I ended up doing a lot of collage and constructions with a surrealist bent. I felt a bit of an outsider at the time. Basically, I taught myself to paint realistically.

Q: Tell us about the piece that you submitted to the competition.

A: The piece I submitted to the competition is one of a series of portraits I did of friends—mostly artists— over a period of about three years. I think there is a relationship, perhaps oddly, between my starting the series and my increased involvement in music at the time. Being a long-time saxophone player, I organized a jazz group, and the increased social interaction that entailed made it more possible for me to get involved with other people artistically.

Bringing the particular contemplation of another person into my practice of painting was a new and most interesting experience; quite different I felt, from the usual solitary activity. The painting of Mike Henderson, a painter and musician, was inspired by the particularly striking pose he spontaneously assumed when I was photographing him in his studio. The blue gloves he is wearing are those he paints in, and the yellow background was suggested by the brightly painted walls in his house. I feel the scale of the painting and his pose convey the strong presence of the artist.

Q: Tell us about your larger body of work.

A: I have painted more landscapes during my career than I have still-lifes or portraits. I have also painted a number of large-scale landscape commissions, including one for the California Supreme Court and one for the Oakland Museum. I tend to do a body of work in one mode, then move on to another. Having the different avenues of expression keeps me interested in the process, and my discoveries in one area subtly influence the others.

Q: What are you currently working on?

A: I am currently working on a series of intimately scaled still-lifes involving groupings of small objects against a relatively neutral background. When I work in this way I sometimes feel that the resulting compositions reflect a musical sensibility.

Q: How has your work changed over time?

A: As my practice of painting moves into its sixth decade, I’ve learned to accept and enjoy the impossibility of having more than a momentary resting place before moving on to another attempt. I do appreciate more and more the way a painting, its spirit arising out of such humble materials, continues to rest silently on the wall, contemplating both itself and the viewer amidst the hurried buzz of our contemporary lives, offering a refuge and occasion for those desiring a deeper and more satisfying engagement of our attention.

Q: Who are your favorite artists?

A: Velásquez, Rembrandt, Vermeer, Van Ruisdael, Courbet, Manet, Sargent, Inness, Bonnard, Morandi, Magritte, Still, Freud, Conner, De Feo.

Q: If you could study with one artist, who would it be?

A: If one could sit at the feet of someone like Manet or Courbet, much would be learned to be sure, and to be in the milieu of Paris at that time fascinating.

Q: What are your favorite works?

A: The Unicorn Tapestries, Velásquez’s Las Meninas, Courbet’s The Artist’s Studio, Grünewald’s Crucifixion and Resurrection, Rembrandt’s The Night Watch, and Vermeer’s A Lady Writing.

Q: What inspires you?

A: The possibility of embodying beauty, and the way unexpected avenues of expression open up and lead you forward or evolve as you work.

Portrait of an Artist: Leslie Adams

Q: Where are you from, where do you live now?

A: My name isLeslie Adams. I am a native of Toledo, Ohio, where I currently reside.

Q: What medium(s) do you work with?

A: My works on paper are created with various forms of charcoal and dry pigments, and my paintings are executed primarily with oil paint. I have also recently returned to traditional printmaking.

Q: Tell us about your technique/creative process.

A: Drawing is my first love; I always return to it. Drawing has the ability to reveal the most intimate thoughts of the artist’s mind—the initial ideas, the mistakes, the clues. I am fascinated with charcoal because it can achieve a full range of values, from delicate lights to rich blacks; it exudes a presence of strength and dramatic allure. Charcoal is a superb medium for capturing form, texture, and energy, whether it’s the light falling on a young girl’s cheek, the feel of luxurious velvet, or the restless movements and behavior of the subject. Oil paint can accomplish all of these things and have the brilliance, luminosity, and depth of color, but it all begins with the eloquence of line and a clear understanding of value.

The process with which I begin a work is to hand-tone the paper, creating a middle value and an underlying web of lines from which the figure will emerge. From this ground, I carve the lights and darks to create the illusion of three-dimensional, sculpted forms.

Q: What is your background (education, career, etc.) and how does it contribute to your art?

A: As a child, the Toledo Museum of Art was my playground. Within its walls and among its treasures, I was given the opportunity of being surrounded by great art as well as the extraordinary privilege of beginning my formal art education.

At the University of Toledo, I had the great fortune to study with Diana Attie, my mentor and friend, who first introduced me to the academic study of human anatomy and figurative art. After receiving a BFA in printmaking and drawing, I was awarded the grand prize in the first International Drawing Competition sponsored by the Warhol Foundation for the Visual Art; this enabled me to attend the prestigious New York Academy of Art and earn an MFA in figurative art.

I was again fortunate to have been one of the first graduate students to study with many of the leading artists in the field, including Vincent Desiderio, Eric Fischl, Edward Schmidt, Margaret Bowland, Jack Beal, and Xavier deCallatay. After returning to Ohio, I refined my skills through further study in technique mixte with Patrick Betuadier, director of the Atelier Neo Medici. Both my life experience and my academic background provided a natural entrance into the field of portraiture and figurative art.

I have been a professional artist for almost twenty years, and I am a member of the Portrait Society of America. My patrons include many distinguished members of private society as well as the corporate, academic, religious, cultural, and civic leaders of our day.

Q: How did you learn about the Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition?

A: While attending the Portrait Society of America’s annual conference in Washington, Marc Pachter, then director of the National Portrait Gallery, delivered a lecture on the museum’s history and renovation. He also introduced a new and exciting competition, the Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition, which was at that time still in the planning stages.

Q: Tell us about the piece that you submitted to the competition.

A: “Man paints with his brain and not with his hands.” These words attributed to Michelangelo, as well as an alarming mini-stroke, initially inspired me to create a self-portrait. Soon after I began the work, I was introduced to the concept of “Sensazione,” illustrated by author Michal Gelb in his book How to Think like Leonardo. Gelb’s theory emphasizes “the continual refinement of the senses, especially sight, as the means to enliven experience” and offered yet another insight into my work.

Through traditional technique and personal iconography, my concept was realized. The drawing includes many symbolic images—the MRI scans of my brain, my eyeglasses, Leonardo da Vinci’s self-portrait, and a handmade box embedded with cast fingertips created by my mentor, Diana Attie. These elements all add to the traditional image of an artist at her easel. The portrait considers and asks, What is the connection between the brain, the hand, and the eye? Can an artist survive without the use and function of all three?

A medical scare always forces one to reexamine life, existence, and purpose. As a visual artist, the realization of losing the use of any or all of the functions of thought, physical dexterity, or sight overwhelmed me. As a professional artist who specializes in commissioned portraiture, I was eager to confront these issues and take the time needed to create this more personal work.

Q: Tell us about your larger body of work.

A: In the fall of 2012 my solo exhibition, “Leslie Adams, Drawn from Life,” opened at the Toledo Museum of Art during the museum’s fall season of portraiture (which included “Manet: Portraying Life” and “Made in Hollywood”). This was a dream come true.

The inspiration for my show was simple—to tell my story of becoming an artist. The exhibition pays homage to the nurturing love of my parents and family, who encouraged me as a young girl to attend art classes at the Toledo Museum of Art.

Like many children before and since, I spent countless hours in the galleries creating memories that continue to influence my life and work. The works are personal thank- you notes to the memories of the museum and its collection, and to the people, places, and institutions that have shaped my artistic career and life.

Included are references to the New York Academy of Art, the Portrait Society of America, the Ohio State House, the “Draw Me” contest I entered as a child in hopes of winning a scholarship to art school. This new work incorporates old master compositions and drawing techniques, weaving classical and old master references with the occasional healthy dash of twentieth- and twenty-first-century pop culture. It broadens the thematic scope of my continually evolving work.

Q: What are you currently working on?

A: Because of the realities of time and space, not all of my autobiography could be produced nor exhibited. There are many more personal stories that I need to record and share, and so I am continuing with the body of work that I unveiled at the museum last fall. Yet as I maintain this grasp on more personal reflection, I must also return to my work on the official historical and biographical portraits that I so love. I am currently working on several portraits for the Supreme Court of Ohio and the Ohio State House, as well as works for the Ohio State University and other private individuals.

Q: How has your work changed over time?

A: It has been said that the role of a portrait artist is to capture a likeness, find the character and the essence of an individual, and tell each person’s unique story through a lasting image. I have focused most of my attention on commissioned portraiture for almost twenty years. During that time, I have produced personal work, but never to the degree with which I have in the past year in preparing the solo exhibition.

Now that the exhibition has come to a close and I am returning my focus to official portraits, I have found that my work has changed. Although I have always considered myself a recorder of history, I have since worked to create my own personal narrative and therefore, humbly, placed myself within the context of our history. My personal journey cannot escape the entrance into my commissioned work any more than my commissioned work can avoid entering the more personal images I create.

Q: If you could work with any artist (past or present) who would it be?

A: Leonardo da Vinci. Of course.

Q: What inspires you?

A: I have always drawn inspiration from the classical tradition with reverence to the old basters—especially Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci. In the world of portraiture specifically, there are no greater influences on my work than Ingres, John Singer Sargent, and Cecelia Beaux. Among contemporary artists, I find myself inspired mostly by those with whom I have had the great fortune to study under: Vincent Desiderio, Diana Attie, Edward Schmidt, and Margaret Bowland. The many contemporary portrait artists I admire are too numerous to mention here but include Nelson Shanks, Ronald Sherr, and Rhoda Sherbell.

Portrait of an Artist: Catherine Prescott

Q: Where are you from and where do you live now?

A: I was born in Washington, D.C., raised in Wisconsin, and am currently living in Pennsylvania.

Q: What medium(s) do you work with?

A: Oil paints are my preferred medium. I have also worked in charcoal, watercolor, pastels, pencil, and various combinations of them all.

Q: Tell us about your technique/creative process

A: Most of my work is portraits. I discovered after painting from life for many years that I much prefer working from photographs for several reasons: they give me more time; they allow for a greater variety of models; working with a model is too social for me; and accessing my own interior in order to bring it to the act of painting is best done when I am completely alone. Of course I can fulfill all of those things if I am the model, so I never use photographs for self-portraits.

The model I choose for a portrait may have been on my mind as a subject for years, but the painting doesn’t begin to exist as an image until I have an idea for the content—emotional, narrative, or otherwise. Often the person says something or tells a story or makes a gesture that I connect with and the painting starts up in my mind. Sometimes I ask a stranger to pose, but rarely.

When I photograph, I end up with perhaps 200 images, including a variety of poses, diverse lighting situations, different dress, and a lot of details. My aim is to maximize my choices for the painting. Drawing with these options is a way of beginning to compose the image, and eventually I stretch a canvas to fit the proportions of the drawing. The details come from the photographs, but the idea drives which parts I choose to put together.

Q: What is your background (education, career, etc.), and how does it contribute to your art?

A: I went to school in the 1960s, so abstraction dominated what was valued in art. My personal interest in portraits and the figure was not considered relevant except as a drawing exercise. I became a Christian when I was twenty-six and suddenly felt free of the pressure to fit into the established art world. I stopped looking at contemporary art and started making large figure paintings. A few years later, when I was beginning to exhibit, I saw the work of Alice Neel, Philip Pearlstein, Alex Katz, Jack Beal, and, most important, Fairfield Porter. I saw I was not alone in my pursuits and thought that perhaps I might be an artist after all.

Since I was trained in abstraction, my orientation is first to formal concerns like color relationships and compositional dynamics, rather than to painting technique and drawing accuracy. My goal is to paint a convincing portrait, but making it convincing and making it accurate are not the same to me. Leonardo da Vinci called portraits “vehicle[s] for expressing emotions of the mind.” I’m always negotiating with the forms to get at interiority, and I tend to trust my own distortions.

Q: How did you learn about the Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition?

A: I was teaching in Italy in 2005 when a friend e-mailed me with a link to the OBPC. I had been interested in the [British National Portrait Gallery’s] BP Portrait Competition, though I didn’t know Americans could enter it. I always thought I was born in the wrong country because we didn’t have anything like that in the U.S. Apart from my studio work, I teach portrait painting and have written and spoken on the subject of portraits as art, so I was thrilled to hear that our own National Portrait Gallery had reopened and was having a competition. I was very excited to be a finalist in that first exhibition and am most grateful to be able to participate in 2013.

Q: Tell us about the piece you submitted to the competition.

A: Legacy: Portrait of Val. For several years I wanted to paint Valerie, but I didn’t have an idea for the image. Val inherited her father’s artistic gifts and a powerful desire to make things, but her father was never able to complete a project. Both the house she grew up in and the house he started after the children moved out were perpetually unfinished. She told me that throughout her childhood a table saw took the place of a family dining table. When her father died, the family was left with what had become an albatross around his neck. The story, to me, became that of a poetic, even epic struggle between Val’s father and his house and reminded me of Captain Ahab and Moby Dick.

Val took a sculpture class a year after her dad’s death and told me that the class was a revelation; suddenly she realized what all the tools and machines in her father’s workshop could do for her as a sculptor. I pictured her there, in his workshop, a place that had always confounded her. The image in my mind had the potential for the emotional weight I was looking for. Every element that I brought into the painting had to serve that. The hardest part was the still life on the left side. It is strongly influenced by the Spanish Bodegon painters, whose figure paintings such as Velasquez’s Woman Frying Eggs of 1618 have a still life that dominates the canvas, almost subordinating the figure. I had to paint and repaint those shelves and the objects I put on them to make them support her presence rather take it over.

Q: Tell us about your larger body of work.

A: The driving force behind my portraits is the conviction that a person’s interiority can be articulated visually, and that carefully chosen particulars of the visible world can, conversely, point to or even reveal what might otherwise be thought of as invisible.

The impetus for a particular painting is very often a narrative, sometimes told by the subject but not always. Sometimes the character of the person is enough to suggest a strong visual image, with no context. Other paintings call for situating the subject, and in those cases elements such as furniture or landscape are chosen with the hope that they would serve, indeed enhance, the content. I am not trying to illustrate a story or create an anecdote.

I also have made a lot of landscapes. The landscapes were, for a long time, all from nature and were a way of practicing color, both mixing colors I had never seen before and dealing with difficult relationships of colors. More recently, landscapes have suggested to me the same kind of content I hope for in the portraits.

Newer still, is a series of still lifes that I plan to continue. They originate with objects I love or that fascinate me for the same reasons that I paint everything else. They have history that raises my consciousness. So far they have all been from life, but I think eventually photographs will help me do some flowers or other things that change too fast for me to get everything I want.

Q: What are you currently working on?

A: I am working on a commissioned portrait of a donor couple. The painting I made just before this one was also a commission, of a retiring bank CEO. Commissions are really a challenge for me because I don’t know the subjects well, and yet I want them to have a measure of interiority, what Hilton Kramer called “a face expressive of experience, a face marked by life and thought.”

Further, the painting has to have an official and somewhat flattering presence. I’m interested in the way those values relate to the history of the grand portrait painters, but it’s hard to know what to emphasize.

I love the Chapter Room in the Toledo Cathedral. It has at least four rows, one on top of the other, of portraits of the bishops that stretch around all four sides of the room. They are all head and shoulders, all wearing similar garments, and all the same size. As you walk along you can easily identify the ones by Velasquez, Goya, or El Greco that were made from life.

Most of them, however, were done post mortem and are completely anonymous and unspecific, identifiable only by the conventions of portraiture from that time, and the painterly wisdom of the particular artist who made that group. That, for them, was enough.

Q: How has your work changed over time?

A: Slow painting has brought the biggest change, along with using smaller brushes when I need them, rather than spending so much energy on facile brushwork. A character in John Updike’s The Witches of Eastwicksaid, “Precision is where passion begins.” For me, the bravura brushstroke, which I once thought was the most important aspect of painting, was distracting and distancing, and something I had to give up in order to get closer to what I really wanted to make a big deal of.

The classical realists have influenced my work in that they are not interested in originality. Jacob Collins once said to me, “Who is to say I can’t imitate?” That was truly a shock to me. I am firmly rooted in tradition by virtue of being a portrait painter, but only because portraits are a traditional subject for artists. I still thought, for a long time, that they should be painted in an original way. That idea had me backed into a corner, and I think I’m less bound by that than I was. A lot of what you have to do as an artist, over and over, is to break those rules in your head about what is and is not allowed.

Q: Who is your favorite artist?

A: When I was twenty, I went to Spain to study at the University of Madrid. The first time I went to the Prado and saw the seventeenth-century Spanish painters I decided that they were at the center of what it means to make a painting. I didn’t go back to study them as a painter until much later, but the visceral response stayed with me. It wasn’t only the art, but the entire culture of Spain that altered my vision. The expression of tragedy in pure flamenco and the drama of both the religion and the religious made the paintings true. I’ve been back to the Prado many times, where I learn over and over what I love.

Portrait of an Artist: Ray DiCapua

Q: Where do you live?

A: I presently have residences in Connecticut and Washington, D.C.

Q: What medium(s) do you work with?

A: At the present, I work mostly with charcoal.

Q: What is your background (education, career, etc.) and how does it contribute to your art?

A: I studied art and received BFA and MFA degrees. I teach studio art practices at a university. I had teachers who were transformational for me. In this way, it matters to me that I engage in dialog with students. In both teaching and in the studio, staying as close as I can to the communicative aspect of the creative process in general and to image making in particular becomes more and more important to me each day.

Q: How did you learn about the Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition?

A: A colleague brought this to my attention.

Q: Tell us about the piece you submitted to the competition.

A: With this drawing of my wife, Marie, I explore the intersubjective qualities of our relationship, as well as objective and subjective aspects of her physicality and character. As her husband, I have a distinct vantage on the lifetime of experience comprised in her complex gaze. Yet making this drawing challenged me to explore aspects of her strength and vulnerability that extend past my direct experience. Marie is a conflict specialist in the field of international development. She sends home stories of our troubled, fragile world. My relationship to these stories is embedded in the marks that make the image.

Q: Tell us about your larger body of work.

A: I like thinking about the fact that drawing begins with an interrogation of appearances. Yet looking inevitably gets entangled with interpretations. Technically and in terms of content, my work explores how images—and portraits in particular—can inform, provoke, and inspire self-reflective awareness and dialog about personal and cultural narratives, identities, and worldviews.

The making and viewing of portraiture as art has, historically, investigated the ways through which we identify each other and ourselves. In a shrinking, fragile, and volatile world, contemporary portraiture becomes an important catalyst for dialogue that enables and supports the constructive engagement of our diversity and interdependence. Through exploring the interplay between interpretation, recognition, meaning, and experience in relationship to scale and proximity, it is my hope that my work furthers the discourse on what it means to see and be seen.

Q: What are you currently working on?

A: A large drawing of my father’s hands and a series of large portraits and a series of large drawings of draped objects and figures.

Q: How has your work changed over time?

A: Thankfully, over time there has been a deepening of my relationship with both ease and urgency in the work.

Q: Who is your favorite artist?

A: Magdalena Abakanowicz

Q: If you could work with any artist (past or present) who would it be?

A: Iri Maruki and Toshi Maruki

Q: What inspires you?

A: Evolution of human consciousness. Our capacity to experience and communicate shared meaning. When people in need get help. When the first snow starts to fall at dusk when the air is still.


Portrait of an Artist: Bo Bartlett

Q: Where are you from, where do you live now?

A: I was born in Columbus, Georgia, grew up in Georgia, moved to Florence at eighteen, and lived in Philadelphia for thirty years. I’ve lived on Vashon Island, west of Seattle, for the past eight years; we live on a tiny island off the coast of Maine in the summers. Currently, we are living in my childhood home in Georgia.

Q: What medium(s) do you work with?

A: Mostly oil. But I draw every day.

Q: Tell us about your technique/creative process.

A: I look and dream. Try to stay awake in the moment. Try to find a distilled moment, to represent how it feels to be alive in this world. It is about finding something equivalent to a mise-en-scène. A single image which encapsulates and describes the whole idea.

Q: What is your background (education, career, etc.), and how does it contribute to your art?

A: Studied in Florence, studied drawing privately with Ben Long, at PAFA in Philly, studied painting privately with Nelson Shanks. University of Pennsylvania, New York University for film. Spent many years alongside Andrew Wyeth, who became my mentor and “artistic father.

Q: Tell us about the piece you submitted to the competition.

A: Inheritance is a double portrait of my parents. I was working on a small interior of my childhood living room when they came over to the old house one Sunday after church. I hadn’t planned on painting them. But when they sat on either end of the little love seat, it was a perfect representation of their relationship.

I started a larger version of the interior with them in it. It wasn’t staged or planned; it just happened. The blank canvas I had in my childhood bedroom studio had unknowingly been graffitied by my son, Man, when he visited over the holidays. He had written “Yes” in the exact center of the blank canvas, a sort of homage to Yoko Ono. Man is a visual and performance artist in New York.

When I discovered the tiny “Yes,” I realized I had to incorporate it into the composition, so I allowed a streak of sunlight (which only momentarily struck the back of the love seat each afternoon) to highlight my son’s affirmation.

Q: What are you currently working on?

A: Currently working on several different long-term series, which I am keeping private. I have no plans to show them.

Q: What inspires you?

A: My work changes slowly, incrementally over time; rarely are there sharp turns or U-turns. I don’t think of myself as having a style. If I do have a style of painting, it is no-frills— I don’t want the viewer to be aware of the hand of the artist or of the process.

I paint the best I can. I don’t strive for distance or objectivity. There is no strategy or agenda; I’m not trying to prove anything. I like work that is real, earnest, to the point. An artist can’t hide behind any veils; if you look at the surface, the original intent is revealed.

The single most important event in my artistic life was becoming friends with Andrew Wyeth. I was making a documentary on his life at the request of his wife, Betsy. Once we met, we realized that we were kindred spirits. I’d admired his work when I was younger. But art school had sort of beat it out of me.

So there was a period when I was cool, thinking, oh, you’re Andrew Wyeth, you were famous in the sixties, but you have nothing to offer, I’m just making this film. But the more time I spent with him and the more I studied his work, I slowly began to deprogram. The scales fell away from my eyes, and I realized, “My God, this guy is a great artist!”

Funny, I’d wanted to study with Wyeth when I’d first moved to Philadelphia, but he wasn’t taking students. In retrospect, I’m glad I didn’t study with him when I was young, because if I had, I would have been enticed to try to copy his technique (which had been developed on his own and was unique). But by meeting him later on, when I was a more mature artist and had developed my own way of working, I was able to appreciate his art on a deeper level.

We discussed his motivations, why he painted, how he stayed motivated over a long career. Andy believed that “freedom” was of the utmost importance for the artist. No one should tell an artist what he or she can paint. This sense of freedom, which borders on “bravery,” is nurtured in an artist by their daily practice.

Andy loved art—all art—but he loved nature more, and he didn’t allow himself to be swayed by the thoughts or ideologies of others. He was fearless. He would paint anything he wanted. This is the key. No rules. It transcends style.

Each artist’s truth is different depending on their experience, their temperament. Rip down all the old hegemonies, of theology, of art, of cultural mores. Total freedom. Andy famously said, “your art goes as deep as your love goes.” Ken Wilber has written that in the end it comes down to “what is the original intent of the artist?”

Original intent trumps all conceits. Art may be context-dependent, some things may be shocking and cool at one point in time and blasé the next, but the original intent of the artist is true, timeless, consistent, and undeniable.

Portrait of an Artist: Bridget Lanigan

Q: Where are you from, and where do you live now?

A: I was born in Coram, New York; I currently reside in Rhinebeck, New York.

Q: What medium(s) do you work with?

A: I primarily work in photography but have also used video for specific projects.

Q: Tell us about your technique/creative process.

A: I photograph a majority of my work with a medium-format camera. I then scan the film to convert the image to a digital file and work on the photograph in Photoshop. The final image is made into a digital chromogenic print.

My portraits are based on the environment and on objects people surround themselves with every day. I consider these works to go beyond a documentary style and lend themselves to fiction. The images are taken from reality, yet are directed and constructed. I enjoy garish colors, kitschy objects, and elevating everyday situations to a moment worthy of viewing.

Q: What is your background (education, career, etc.), and how does it contribute to your art?

A: I have a BFA in photography from the State University of New York at New Paltz and an MFA in photography from the San Francisco Art Institute. I have worked for commercial and fine art photographers, shooting and editing.

During my studies at SUNY New Paltz, I learned how to refine my photographic skills and explored various concepts and techniques in photography. At SFAI, I was able to continue working and evolve conceptual aspects in my work in an inspiring and unusual environment. I expanded upon my work in portraiture within a school that provided the space and instruction to find my own niche as an artist.

My various careers in the commercial and fine arts realm have further assisted in refining my technical skills and in helping me to develop an awareness of the various business aspects of art and photography.

Q: How did you learn about the Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition?

A: I learned about the competition through an artist/friend who had applied to the competition in the past.

Q: Tell us about the piece you submitted to the competition.

A: The portrait I submitted is of my Uncle Fred on Santa Monica Beach in Los Angeles. He has lived in this particular area for several years. I met up with him one evening for dinner and asked if I could take his picture the following morning.

We met outside of his apartment, and he showed up in a suit with sneakers, which is not unusual for him. The beach was nearby, and I decided it would be the most typical background for a picture in Santa Monica. Yet I knew Uncle Fred’s clothing was distinctive and would set him aside from the other beachgoers.

Having him pose on the ground also added an uncanny element to the image, considering the garments he was wearing that day. I strove to position him similar to a supermodel. I think he deserves to be in the ranks of the best.

Q: Tell us about your larger body of work.

A: My larger body of work is based on portraiture of everyday people in their environments. The images are somewhat documentary in style, yet they are also directed in relation to their presentation and position. My photographs exist as a collaboration between the subject and me. I arrive to the shoot with a loose idea; however, I allow for happenstance with the evolution of the final image.

Q: What are you currently working on?

A: I am currently working on a series of images of nude models. For the current work, the environment remains consistent and monochromatic. (I am shooting the models in the same setting, which consists of a white wall and tile floor.) In these images, the pose is more forced than in prior portraits. In short, I seek to capture the models doing their job and nothing more. They really are “standing in front of the camera.” I believe the nude to be a clichéd topic in art and was curious to see if I could add any other ideas to the conversation.

Q: How has your work changed over time?

A: I think my early work has a dose of humor that my recent work is without. Perhaps I’ve grown a little darker as I get older. Does that happen to everyone?

Q: Tell us about a seminal experience you’ve had as an artist.

A: Randomly finding the book Pleasures and Terrors of Domestic Comfort by Peter Galassi in the SUNY New Paltz library.

Q: Who is your favorite artist?

A: The artist who I have always admired and aspired to would be Rineke Dijkstra. Her portraits, whether photography or video, constantly astound me in that they show people in a way that reveals a uniqueness in their identity, yet also communicates a universal nature.

Q: If you could work with any artist (past or present) who would it be?

A: In this day and age it is difficult to choose only one person, considering the amount of extraordinarily talented artists in the world. One would assume I would choose my favorite artist listed above; however, I’ll try not to do the expected. I would love to work with Werner Herzog. He never denies his ideas, and he believes in them wholeheartedly. I wouldn’t even mind simply fetching him a coffee, or whatever he drinks.

Q: What is your favorite artwork?

A: I have more than one favorite, but I adore The World Won’t Listen by Phil Collins.

Q: What inspires you?

A: Banal acts that happen everyday and my daydreams.

Portrait of an Artist: Caitlin Teal Price

Q: Where are you from, and where do you live now?

A: I grew up in Washington, DC, and I have recently returned.

Q: What medium(s) do you work with?

A: I work with a Mamiya RZ 67 camera and Kodak Portra NC film.

Q: Tell us about your technique/creative process.

A: As a photographer, much of my process involves going out into the world to observe. With the project Annabelle, Annabelle, there is a lot of thought and observation that goes into each image. Once I have a concept for a photograph, I scout out a location, which usually turns out to be a large brutalist building of some sort, an overpass, or a parking lot.

Once I’ve found an interesting location, I visit it a few times a day to scout the light; once the scene has been identified, I find a model. By the time the model is in the frame, I have done so much preparation that I am able to lose a little control and let the fate of the moment take over. The best images turn out to be the ones where I allow myself to open my eyes to the moment.

Q: What is your background (education, career, etc.), and how does it contribute to your art?

A: I received my BFA from Parsons School of Design and my MFA from the Yale School of Art. For me, making art has always been a reaction to a gut instinct. My education has helped me to understand and put words to those instincts. It has helped me zero in on the ideas that hold weight and weed out the ones that don’t.

Q: How did you learn about the Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition?

A: I live in DC and have always been a fan of the Portrait Gallery. I went to the Portrait Gallery’s website to see what was showing and ran across the competition.

Q: Tell us about your larger body of work.

A: In Annabelle, Annabelle women stand transfixed in and among severe everyday landscapes, connected to the world by the objects surrounding them. Each frame is carefully constructed, but what lies just beyond is uncertain, perhaps threatening and ultimately left for wonder. These women, with strength and wisdom in the depth of their age, stand boldly and carefully alone. They offer us the opportunity to create stories about life and death, power and vulnerability, magnificence and uncertainty.

Q: Tell us about the piece you submitted to the competition.

A: Leslie, the piece I submitted, is part of the series Annabelle, Annabelle. I spoke with “Leslie” over the phone and asked her to meet me under the overpass just outside the CBD in New Orleans. I asked her to wear something from her closet that was hard to place in time. This was the first and only time we met. I prefer to photograph people I hardly know because it gives me the freedom to fantasize about who they are. When photographing strangers I feel no responsibility to tell their personal truths. In my mind they become less themselves and more characters I create for them.

Q: What are you currently working on?

A: I am working on three projects simultaneously. It’s good for me to have a few things going on, so when I need a break from one project I don’t just sit around worrying about it. I am working on Annabelle, Annabelle; a project called Washed Up, which is images of people lying on beaches; and a brand-new project involving architectural drawings and old slides found at a thrift store.

Q: How has your work changed over time?

A: Over time, my work has become more thoughtful and focused, in concept and in style.

Q: Tell us about a seminal experience you’ve had as an artist.

A: Working with Justine Kurland was a seminal experience for me. I met Justine for the first time when I flew out to Portland, Oregon, to assist her for a month. I was twenty-five, and she was ten years older than me.

The coolest thing for me was to watch a young, successful, up-and-coming photographer do her thing. I was there day in and day out. I saw how she worked, how she found her locations and her models, how she talked to strangers, how she stored her film, how she used her camera, and how she spent her days.

I saw that what she was doing wasn’t easy, but it was possible. I always knew that I wanted to be an artist, but I wasn’t really sure how it was going to play out—how I was actually going to make it happen. Justine helped me realize that it was possible and that if I really wanted it, with a lot of hard work and determination I could have it.

Q: Who is your favorite artist?

A: The ever-talented Amber Ibarreche. She’s always been an inspiration.

Portrait of an Artist: Vincent Giarrano

Q: Where are you from, where do you live now?

A: I’m from Buffalo, New York, and now live in Washington, Connecticut.

Q: What medium(s) do you work with?

A: I mainly paint in oils but love to draw with graphite or charcoal.

Q: What is your background (education, career, etc.) and how does it contribute to your art?

A: I went to the State University at Buffalo for my BFA and Syracuse University for my MFA. My major was sculpture. My education was predominantly Modern in aesthetic, and it taught me mostly about conceptualizing, thinking like an artist.

After college I had a career in illustration, drawing comic books for Marvel and DC Comics. The benefit of this was learning to be professional, working consistently and developing my visual storytelling. As far as painting, I’m largely self-taught.

Q: How did you learn about the Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition?

A: I saw something about it in an art magazine. One of the pieces really caught my eye.

Q: Tell us about the piece you submitted to the competition.

A: City Girl is one of a series of pieces I’ve been doing about contemporary life in New York City. My subject in this painting is Amanda Leigh Dunn, a young, stylish city dweller. I’ve done several pieces that are about her lifestyle. I find the subjects in New York endlessly inspiring. I discover people and parts of the city and then explore them through painting.

Q: Tell us about your larger body of work.

A: I paint about contemporary life, but at the same time I like to acknowledge the history of things. It’s this combination of classic and contemporary elements that runs through all of my work. Another thing I focus on is connecting with real-life experience. I like my viewer to feel what I’m showing them is a sincere moment of life.

Q: What are you currently working on?

A: I’m painting a young woman. She’s sitting on the floor in a sparsely decorated room, listening on headphones to music from an iPod. Sunlight is streaming in through a window with venetian blinds. A space heater glows red hot. Behind her, a modern painting hangs on the wall. It’s a quiet, sincere moment in someone’s life, a private moment that we might never have seen.

Q: How has your work changed over time?

A: My concepts have become more focused, and I’m always gaining skill with my painting process.

Q: Tell us about a seminal experience you’ve had has an artist.

A: When I discovered the benefits of writing and using it to become a professional artist.

Q: Who is your favorite artist?

A: Anders Zorn.

Q: If you could work with any artist (past or present) who would it be?

A: John Singer Sargent.

Q: What is your favorite artwork?

A: Domino by Frank Bramley.

Q: What inspires you?

A: Exploring New York City and experiencing the energy there.

Portrait of an Artist: Kumi Yamashita

Q: Where are you from, where do you live now?

A: I was born in Takasaki, Japan, and I now live in New York City.

Q: What medium(s) do you work with?

A: I work with various mediums. I’ve done a lot of sculpture with light and shadow—three-dimensional thread works that are similar to my entry piece. I also work with fabric and paper.

Q: Tell us about your technique/creative process.

A: A lot of the work that I have created begins visually. I will see an image of the work almost fully formed in my mind’s eye, as opposed to working out an idea or concept. If the image sticks with me for a few days and continues to excite me, I’ll have the desire to attempt to make it. I then have to figure out how. With work such as my light and shadow sculptures, this may mean weeks or months of in-studio trial and error until I either succeed or realize it is not possible and move on. A light bulb, some objects that I fashion from wood or metal, and just my eyes and hands—it’s pretty analog.

Q: What is your background (education, career, etc.), and how does it contribute to your art?

A: I first came to the States as a high school exchange student, spending a year in Indiana and then another year in upstate New York. After graduation, I went to Florence and studied for two years before returning to the U.S. to receive my BFA from Cornish College of the Arts in Seattle. I then went to Glasgow School of Art for my MFA.

If anything contributes to my art, I imagine it is this exposure to various people and cultures. If one looks at my body of work, an interest in the human figure, in the human face, is apparent. And perhaps this has to do with my meeting so many interesting and different people outside my culture.

Q: Tell us about the piece you submitted to the competition.

A: My submitted artwork is from a series I call Constellation. Thousands of tiny nails called “brads” are inserted into a wooden panel painted white, and one unbroken sewing thread is woven amongst the brads to create the portrait. I created this portrait of my niece from a photo that I found as I was going through a box of snapshots. There was something in her young, open face that made me want to stare at her for a long time.

Q: What are you currently working on?

A: I’m currently close to finishing another Constellation work, which is also of my niece Mana, but at a little younger age. I’m working from a photo taken of her as she is about to blow out the candles on her birthday cake so it has a really beautiful quality of light.

Q: Who is your favorite artist?

A: I love Charlie Chaplin. To me, his work is similar to the greatest symphony; it just seems to encompass everything. Not just funny or just sad, but all of it simultaneously. His work covers the whole range of human emotions that we experience.

Q: If you could work with any artist (past or present) who would it be?

A: I’m not sure that I would like to work with another artist, but I certainly would love to sit and have tea with a few people. Erik Satie comes to mind because I feel his music is so liberating and beautiful. Another person in the music realm that I would like to spend time with is the great pianist Ivo Pogorelic. And I love the Russian animator Yuriy Norshteyn’s work. I would love to just sit in his studio quietly and watch him. (That sounds creepier than I meant it to be.)

Q: What inspires you?

A: I’m inspired by the beauty found in nature and also by the artworks of great masters. These two things can speak to you directly without the need for explanation or context.

Portrait of an Artist: Laura Chasman

Q: Where are you from, where do you live now?

A: I am from Brooklyn, New York. I live in Roslindale, Massachusetts.

Q: What medium(s) do you work with?

A: I work with water-based gouache on museum mounting-board. Although I have worked with other mediums over the years, I have always returned to gouache, a medium that suits my painting style. Gouache dries quickly and the colors can be painted over, allowing me to make the many revisions that are a part of my process. I also love the intensity of the colors.

Q: Tell us about your technique/creative process.

A: I have always been interested in drawing and painting people. Initially, I worked from life but often found it difficult arranging for people to sit for me. I also realized that I prefer to work alone in my studio.

Photographing my subjects was the solution. Many of my photos are of poor to average quality; however, I only rely on these as a reference to establish structure. I enlarge my photos and loosely trace the basic forms. Many times I lose my original drawing and reinvent what I had originally drawn out. I keep my brushstrokes active so that the viewer senses the artist’s hand.

Q: What is your background (education, career, etc.) and how does it contribute to your art?

A: Growing up in Brooklyn, I had the opportunity, prior to college, to attend art programs at Pratt, NYU, and the Art Students League. These classes were the highlight of my week. I attended Carnegie Mellon and then transferred to the School of the Museum of Fine Arts and Tufts University in Boston.

Committing to a life as an artist, with all of its uncertainties, I eventually returned to school and received a master’s degree in social work from Smith College. I worked as a practicing psychotherapist for more than twenty years, followed by geriatric social work. This work was meaningful, and it also provided a flexible work schedule.

I have always valued the opportunity to move within two very different worlds—each feeding the other interest. Both careers center on my fascination in learning about people and continually offered me the opportunity to paint portraits of the broad range of people that I encountered.

Q: How did you learn about the Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition?

A: Prior to the first NPG portrait competition, I had the opportunity to meet Brandon Fortune [director of the first two portrait competitions] here in Boston. She told me about this upcoming opportunity. I was one of the exhibiting artists in the 2009 exhibition, and it is a great honor to be exhibiting my work again.

Q: Tell us about the piece you submitted to the competition.

A: I submitted a portrait of my son—Oliver at 20. My son was at home during a college break when I came upon the following scene one evening—he was sitting in bed, his face aglow from his laptop, his chest adorned with tattoos.

This was indeed a striking image, and one that reflected back to me a contemporary iconic image of a twenty-year-old. I went for my camera. I have been painting my son’s portrait almost every year of his life, twenty-three years thus far, in my attempt to capture his changing demeanor. Oliver has always been a willing collaborator—accustomed to my obsession and agreeable.

Q: Tell us about your larger body of work.

A: At least thirty years of painting portraits has created a visual journal of my life. I love and never tire of this ambition to capture the feeling and the physical presence of my subjects. I am inspired by who my subjects are; how they look, dress, and express themselves; and how I have come to know them.

For many years I was inspired by the various children—later adolescents and young adults—that I knew as my son was growing up. Portraits of my husband over the years, and self-portraits continue. Elderly people, nurses at the nursing home where I worked—all became inspirational. Most of these portraits are devoid of background content as I want to simplify and focus entirely on my subject. However, more recently, I have moved away from the simplicity of these compositions.

Q: What are you currently working on?

A: My subjects no longer inhabit a neutral background but are painted within an environment. Lately I have been working on domestic portrait scenes. I have also begun building my compositions by adding on pieces of museum mounting-board.

Q: How has your work changed over time?

A: My earlier work was flatter, with harder edges.

Q: Tell us about a seminal experience you’ve had has an artist.

A: As an art student, I attended a lecture and presentation from a well-known artist who talked about her beginnings. Although she had a strong desire to paint, the process was intimidating. She found working on the back of letter-sized envelopes to be her comfort zone. Her solution was inspiring, as it reaffirmed the importance of ignoring external pressures and following my own inclinations. I also thought that working on the back of envelopes was very cool.

Q: Who is your favorite artist?

A: Impossible to name only one artist, although the work of Alice Neel has always been inspirational, as well as the work of Lucian Freud, Rineke Dijkstra, and more recently, Chantal Joffe. Looking at Egyptian-Roman encaustic mummy portraits has always inspired me.

Q: What is your favorite artwork?

A: Here are a few—Watteau’s Pierrot, Alice Neel’s Two Girls, Spanish Harlem, Vermeer’s Girl in the Red Hat.

Portrait of an Artist: Jill Wissmiller

Q: Where are you from, and where do you live now?

A: I grew up in a tiny central Illinois farm town called Cooksville. Well, actually, it’s a village. The “ville” has a population of 150, tall topsoil, and abundant characters. It’s been 20 years since I left and I’d now return to my homeland in a heartbeat. Nah, y’all can never mind that adoring notion. You can/will find me gladly glued to the gooey rich characters and sticky scene of Memphis, Tennessee.

Q: What medium(s) do you work with?

A: Whatever gets the job done . . . the medium is the message . . . form equals content . . .

Q: Can you tell us about your technique/creative process?

A: I make a lot of work, and I work a lot. A lot of this work is not great, but it has to get made to get me further down my path and on to the good. I think of the not-so-great work as training/experiments, and often these experiments are later integrated into successful projects.

It is a luxury that the final output of my work is generally projected digital video, as it makes the hoarding of these experiments easy, though it is at times hard to let go of the physical components utilized to make them happen.

Q: How did you find out about the competition?

A: My art historian friend Adrian Duran sent the notice to me as a joke, I believe. He said, “Why don’t you send some glitter to the Smithsonian, Wissmiller?” Well, I had a pretty bad year in 2012. I was shaking off a lot of rejections and figured I needed to reset my luck. It seems like I just might have.

Q: What are you currently working on?

A: One of the best things about this portrait competition has been daydreaming about the possibility of being awarded first prize. After all, the big winner is commissioned to create a portrait of a remarkable living American.

This prospect led to many lively debates among friends and one very interesting dream relayed to me by that same art historian who forwarded me the announcement. He described to me a scenario where Oprah and I arrived on the front lawn of a house party in a convertible. Oprah was driving. Well, it was then settled. Oprah would be my remarkable living American.

Ends up, Oprah will have to wait for now. I’m out of the running as the big winner for this competition, but I am the victor up and running with a new commission from the Women’s Foundation for a Greater Memphis of an indeed remarkable living American. Hazel G. Moore is the focus of my current creative efforts. I am designing the surface of this portrait out of mustard seeds as Ms. Moore truly exemplifies that little can become much. She tells a story of what needs to happen in Memphis and strategizes to make it happen. She inspires you to work what you have.

I am very energized by the possibilities of this project. I know it will be amazing or a huge flop. There will be no in-between. The stakes have been set and they mean something —a signal for change in my own approach to community.

Q: Can you tell us about a seminal experience you have had as an artist?

A: I’m hoping this experience proves powerful and will be added high on my list, near my involvement with the phenomenal Muriel Magenta. Muriel Magenta changed my brain. She blew my mind. The end. She gave me my first introduction into the wonderful world of video art and later pushed me out of the nest and got me started on my path.

Q: Who is your favorite artist?

A: Mmmmmmm . . . Favorite? I hope to experience a ton more art firsthand before I make this call . . . but . . . if I had to declare a kind of last supper of art, currently I would consume the quilts of Gee’s Bend—specifically, the memorial quilt Missouri Pettway made with her husband’s work clothes.

Q: If you could work with any artist (past or present) who would it be? 

A: Paul McCarthy.

Q: What is your favorite artwork?

A: Please add Luis Jiménez’s, Southwest Pieta, installed at Arizona State University, to my last supper menu.

Q: What inspires you?

A: The travel part of traveling. Especially the bus and train—not so much the plane. Talking to strangers. Feeding my friends. Roller skating and riding my Ruckus. Parades.

Portrait of an Artist: Beverly McIver

Q: What is your name, where are you from, and where do you live now?

A: My name is Beverly McIver, and I was born in Greensboro, North Carolina. I currently live in New York City. 

Q: What mediums do you work with? 

A: I paint with oil paint. I paint with a primary palette, which means I use red, blue, and yellow and mix all my colors. I also use white. I mix Liquin with my paint to make it the consistency of room temperature butter.

Q: Tell us about your technique/creative process? 

A: Usually I aim to explore a theme such as transition, depression, or dancing. I take photographs first, and use the photos to create paintings. It is important for me to quiet my conscious mind and rely on my intuition to guide me through the painting.

If I am lucky, I can hear a voice directing me what to paint, how to set up the canvas compositionally, and what colors to use. This process usually yields a good painting.

Q: What is your background and how does it contribute to your art?

A: I was born in a housing project in Greensboro. I am the youngest of three girls raised by a single parent. My mother was a domestic worker, and my oldest sister, Renee, is mentally disabled. That is, Renee is fifty-three years old but has the mindset of a third-grader. Renee also suffers from epilepsy.

My personal history has always influenced my work. I have made a series of paintings about my mother as a domestic worker and her relationship with the white children she raised. One of my first bodies of work was of Renee. I painted about the difficulty of growing up in a household with a special-needs person.

Q: Tell us about the piece you submitted to the competition? 

A: The piece I submitted is part of a series I completed titled Depression. The series was in response to a promise that I had made to my mother to take care of Renee if my mother was no longer able to care for her. My mother died suddenly of pancreatic cancer, and I inherited the responsibility of caring for Renee. I had spent my entire life working and building my art career, and now I was responsible for another person. It changed my world, for good and bad. I became depressed.

Q: Tell us about a seminal experience you’ve had as an artist?

A: This recently happened. I’m currently on a grant through the Marie Walsh Sharpe Foundation, which provides studio space in Brooklyn to seventeen artists for one year. We were having an open studio/Christmas party on December 14, which also happened to be my fiftieth birthday. The studios were filled with visitors roaming around.

A woman came up to me and introduced herself. She told me that she had caught the bus from Washington, D.C., specifically to come and meet me. She had seen the HBO film Raising Renee, which is about my family and the promise I made to my mom to care for my mentally disabled sister.

This young lady had been touched and inspired by the film and my art, and said she had to meet me. She, too, was a caregiver for a disabled loved one. I gave her a hug and thanked her for traveling to New York. She informed me that she was catching a 9:30 p.m. bus back to Washington. I was moved that my art and my life story had impacted her life and empowered her. That’s the power of art.

Q: Who is your favorite artist? 

A: When I start to doubt my decision to be an artist or think that I am not “good enough,” I look at paintings by my favorite artist, Richard Diebenkorn. I love his work and the colors and juiciness of the paint.

Q: What is your favorite artwork?

A: Alice Neel’s Two Black Girls (1959).

Q: What inspires you?

A: I am inspired by people who live their authentic lives. That’s something I aspire to do.

Portrait of an Artist: David Kassan

Q: Where are you from, where do you live now?

A: I’m originally from the Philadelphia area; I currently live in Brooklyn.

Q: What medium(s) do you work with?

A: Oil on panel and charcoal.

Q: Tell us about your technique/creative process.

A: My work is a way of meditation, a way of slowing down time though the careful observation of overlooked slices of my environment. I am intrigued by the subtlety of emotion in the acquaintances who inhabit my environment. My paintings strive for reality, a chance to mimic life in both scale and complexity. The viewer is given an eye-level perspective of the subject—a view that is unbiased and in its most raw condition.

It is my intent to control the medium of oil paint so that it is not part of the viewer-to-subject equation. The image stands alone, without evidence of the artist. I displace textures by moving them out of their existing context. I take the abstract forms from the streets, where they get lost, and move them into the gallery space, where they can be contemplated as accidental abstractions.

The technical aspect of my work is a means to an end—an end rooted in the viewer’s experience. I am interested in a painting’s technical and transformative powers. Turning an ordinary painting surface into a textured trompe l’oeil documentation of the city, or turning the surface into a life-sized representation of a figure in space, transmits feeling that this technical process alters the viewer’s experience.

Q: How did you learn about the Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition?

A: A couple of friends and past painting/drawing professors have participated in previous Outwin Boochever Portrait exhibitions. It is an honor to follow in their footsteps.

Q: Tell us about the piece you submitted to the competition.

A: The painting that I submitted was a small life-sized painting of my mom. My parents live in Florida and don’t travel much up to NYC, so I see them maybe once a year. This painting was my way of “spending” more time with her. Because painting is very meditative for me, I tend to lose myself in thoughts about the subject.

Q: Tell us about your larger body of work.

A: Lately my work has been getting more personal and more autobiographical; I’ve been painting lots of my family members, as well as close friends. I recently had a solo exhibition here in NYC. About six months before the exhibition, I had become a studio hermit and I noticed that the paintings that I had unconsciously started were of family members that I hadn’t seen in a while and missed. Painting was my way of spending more time with those that I wanted/needed closer to me.

Painting for me is largely a therapeutic and meditative process. My paintings take me a long time to complete, and in reality they are never finished.

Q: What are you currently working on?

A: I’m currently working on a painting of the painter Antonio Lopez Garcia; he has been a huge influence on me. I have so much respect for his work and approach of working perceptually and keeping his work open-ended, so much so that some of his pieces have taken him ten years to develop.

It’s so hard to fight the urge to create marketable work fast so that you can make a good living or enough of a living to be a painter. I find that the best work comes from a pure place within the artist and isn’t market-driven.

Anyway, I ventured out to Madrid to meet up with Antonio, and he posed for a quick three-hour alla prima painting. He allowed me to photograph him for a more fully developed painting that is currently on the easel.

Q: How has your work changed over time?

A: My work has changed a lot over the years; I started out being really interested in painting the city and its textures when I first moved to Brooklyn fourteen years ago. Then I became interested in painting the people who lived in the city.

Most recently I’ve been really interested in combining and juxtaposing both the formalistic textures/graffiti/broken letter forms of the city with that of life-sized living figures. It’s definitely been an evolutionary process over as my tastes become more defined.

Q: Tell us about a seminal experience you’ve had has an artist.

A: I think that my years studying at the Art Students League were tremendously helpful with my development. I was able to have serious, long time in front of the model—two weeks, sometimes three weeks, with single poses—that helped in my understanding of the technical aspects of painting that have become more and more intuitive over the years, making it possible for the more creative passionate side of my brain to take over while painting, hopefully bringing me closer to giving life to the work.

Q: Who is your favorite artist?

A: Right now, I’m really into the work of Jerome Witkin, Rembrandt, and Nicholas Uribe. My tastes change frequently.

Q: If you could work with any artist (past or present) who would it be?

A: I would love to work with the young Rembrandt; there is something so luminous and living in his work. His figures breathe.

Moving Forward / Moving Home

Moving Forward / Moving Home

By Mequitta Ahuja, OBPC artist

I'm anticipating my move away from my current home. I've lived in Texas for three years. I'm moving to New York in the fall and unlike most of the artists I know, I will not be moving to Brooklyn.

I'm excited and only a little scared. The finances are intimidating, as is the environmental stimulus: the traffic, the people, the packed subway cars.

It is a happy convergence as I see it, that this time, moving forward also means moving home. I miss the Northeast and have felt culturally misfit for the past nine years in the Mid- and South-West. First time in my adult life, I'll be able to go home for dinner.

Artistically, I'm already feeling the pressure of wanting to live up to the opportunity. I'm in Ohio for the summer, program director of the non-profit I've been with since its inception. Things have been running very smoothly and I am able to spend most of my day in the studio.

I'm already trying to plot the nature of the work I'll make in New York. I'm working on three canvases, each 60"X50." This is a new size and scale for me. I like it. It feels like a problem solving size. It takes me about half as long as my large works and I'm finding that I can work through the same set of ideas on multiple canvases without losing the thread or exhausting myself.

What would be great is if these three would spawn a larger fourth, the babies birthing a mama that would seize the most promising aspects of its smaller beginnings. If I can keep the idea in my mind long enough, it could be the first New York work I make.

I lay those plans out with caution however, as I know that the process of packing everything up and relocating, jostles not just the sense of place but also the sense of self. Moving is hard. Any threads one attempts to hold tend to sever over state lines.

All images © Mequitta Ahuja, 2009