The portraits of the fallen soldiers are painted using the officially released photographs from the Gov’t of Canada. Though these are the same photos that appear in the newspapers and on tv, many who’ve view them comment that the paintings have taken on a new dimension, that they have become more than just a copy of the photos.
When I started work on these portraits, something extraordinary began to happen. As is often the case, I would work late into the wee hours and coming back down the next morning to view the work of the night before, be astonished by these faces coming to life in the paint. For the longest while, I was afraid I might somehow offend the visiting muse, and that the magic would disappear as suddenly as it had come.
If I could put my finger on what makes the difference between the photos and the paintings, it would be something like this, I suppose. At some point with these portraits, the act of painting goes beyond the draftsmanship of getting eyes in proportion and the right shape of the mouth. As I grow more familiar with the face in the photo, and as they begin to come alive in the paint, the features begin to speak. In an odd kind of way, there’s a conversation that develops, an honest and intimate dialogue that has a way of reaching deep into the soul. Somehow, I think, this conversation becomes part of the painting, and in turn becomes part of the conversation the viewer has with the portrait as well.
If I were to try to explain it, I suppose it would be kinda like Edison’s gramophone. You know, how he found that by putting a sound into into a horn, it could vibrate a needle that would leave grooves in a spinning cylinder. Then, when the needle was run back through those spinning grooves again, the sound was reproduced and came back out of the horn. Magic.
Kinda like Edison’s gramophone, the vibration of the brush moving across the canvas somehow embeds thoughts and emotions into the paint, a record of sorts that is played back over and over whenever the painting is viewed. Definitely magic.
Does that make any sense?
Maybe it’s all as simple as this: as the American poet, Robert Frost, once wrote, “No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader…” Perhaps that holds true with painting as well.