Portrait of An Artist 2013

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

<em>Oliver at 20</em> / Laura Chasman / Gouache on museum mounting board, 2010 / Collection of the artist

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

<em>The Gilding of Lily</em> / Jill Wissmiller / Video projected on glitter screen (2:50 minutes), 2011 / Collection of the artist

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

Depression / By Beverly McIver / Oil on canvas, 2010 / Collection of the artist, courtesy Betty Cuningham Gallery, New York City

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

<em>Portrait of My Mom, Roberta</em> / By David Kassan / Oil on panel, 2010 / Collection of Robin and Michael Wilkinson

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.

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