The ’80s: the return to naturalism – a (small) gallery of figure drawings and portraits in color

by Alden Cole on June 25, 2016 · 0 comments

“In a sense, every work you do is a self-portrait because your paintings always reveal more about you than about your subject. Your experience of something, not the something itself, is the true underlying subject of every work you do.” – Richard Schmid (5 Oct 1934 – )

MaryPillsbury1983WP1983: Portrait of Mary Pillsbury • oil on canvas 18″ x 18″ • altered version, collection of the artist

One of only two portraits painted of friends while living in New Hampshire. Fear of Portraiture kept me from venturing into the form any further, knowing my skills as portraitist were weak. Unfortunately this particular piece was altered a few years after moving to Philadelphia in the late 80s, and not for the better; an experiment in improvement that didn’t work; instead I irrevocably lost the naiveté of the original oil sketch. I’ll be showing the altered version in its chronological sequence as part of my Philadelphia oeuvre, coming soon.

1985Mindy16x20WP1985: Portrait of Mindy • oil on canvas-board 16″ x 20″ • collection of the artist

Surely this portrait of Mindy reveals the truism of artist Richard Schmid’s quoted comment above. I’ve often thought of this painting as a portrait of myself in rather sad drag; but with nicely-done hair, dontcha think? Mindy was a model who posed regularly for the drawing/painting group in North Berwick, Maine that Lincoln Perry introduced me to in 1982. The three-hour sessions (with 5-10 minute breaks every 20 minutes or so) featured a single pose, so there was considerable time to develop either a drawing or painting. Originally I stuck exclusively to drawing, but in 1985 I ventured into oil painting, which was a brave new world for me, but one which I did not pursue with any focus or vigor. This particular portrait reminds me of the pain I see in many of van Gogh’s portraits; so one of these days I just may sign the painting Vincent. 😉

ValerieinColorWP1985: Figure Study of Valerie • oils on watercolor paper 24″ x 18″ • collection of the artist

Valerie was another model who posed regularly for the North Berwick group of artists that included watercolorists Pat & DeWitt Hardy, painters George and Dadee Burke, as well as Lincoln Perry and myself. It’s probable that for this particular pose, like the portrait of Mindy above, the group elected to repeat the pose a second week, so we had approximately five hours of actual drawing-time with
1985_FigureStudyWPthe live model in front of us.

1985: Figure Studies – anonymous model • oil on canvas-board 20″ x 16″ • provenance unknown

Looking at this canvases’ series of quick sketches in white against the dark brown background, with a single figure developed in color and applied over the quick sketches, makes me almost wish I’d kept the painting, instead of giving it away to an auction where I never even found out who bought it OR if it even sold; which leaves me wondering who’s living with it now, or if it even exists. Hopefully it’s out there somewhere, rather than lying in a landfill.

DrewCWP1986: Figure Study of Drew Chicester • oil on canvas 16″ x 20″ • collection of the artist

Shortly before leaving for Philly in the spring of 1986, friend and fellow artist Drew Chichester who had worked with me on painting sets for the Portsmouth Ballet Company’s production of The Nutcracker that season, modeled for a drawing/painting group that met in Portsmouth with which I was involved that year, getting my drawing chops back in order, and occasionally even experimenting with painting alla prima with oils as in this one, just like ‘serious artists’.

1985-HarrisHardyWP1985: Figure Study of Harris Hardy • oil on canvas 20″ x 16″ • collection of the artist

Harris Hardy was one of Pat & DeWitt Hardy’s set of twins (Adam being the other) who occasionally modeled for the North Berwick group of artists, this being the only oil sketch done of him during my time there in the mid-80s. However I do have a number of pencil sketches of Harris that I will look for and feature eventually, at least in The Book, if not before…

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