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Tuesday, June 14, 2011


catch a big fat hen: portrait of willard gayheart

I've functionally finished the Willard Gayheart painting. It's yet to be signed. I want to make certain there is nothing else to do. When it's signed it's done. Studying it and applying paint for the last 6 months. It's been living with me so long and I've been studying it all that time, that I've become used to having it here. I knew this one would take awhile from the beginning. I've learned that if I don't spend at least as much time looking at what I'm working on as I spend applying paint, it has no life. I've also found the more time I spend studying them, the better they end up in every way. I even use less paint when I spend a lot of time studying it. It makes application of paint more deliberate when I approach the canvas knowing what I want to do at the start.

It made a good project. Played with colors in a big way, the 3 primary colors, red, yellow and blue, with accents of white all over it. Yellow guitar, blue shirt, brilliant red-orange uneven square behind him and around that an edge of very pale olive. I'm happy with the red that I made it exactly the shade of red I set out to make. The red jumps forward from the soft olive around it, and the blue/white contrasts in the shirt, and the blue/yellow contrast of the shirt and guitar lean forward from the red. The use of colors I intended to give it a subliminal 3-D sense, such that Willard sits forward from the red that is behind him. I use that color, because it was the color in my original vision of how I wanted to paint Willard. I did it because it's a beautiful color to my eye and it works well with the blue shirt and the yellow guitar. It also gives a kind of sense that it's an aura. I wanted it to serve subliminally as a symbol of his creative fire. Willard has an abundance of creative energy. He says he is no artist, but he is.

The most frightening part of the painting was getting the eyes right. The eye on the left, his right eye, had an awkward way about it. After trying this and that, painting out both of them and starting again, they submitted. I don't stop working on eyes until they can see. As soon as I see that they can see, I stop fussing with them. That's what I'm after, however it's done, living eyes. If the eyes don't see, the whole painting is dead in my way of seeing. The eyes are especially important painting Willard, because he expresses the feeling of what he's saying with his eyes. Like some people talk and use their hands, Willard talks and uses his eyes. Much expression of meaning as well as feeling in his eyes. I wanted to make the eyes Willard's and nobody else's eyes. The whole face too, as well as the way he sits.

This particular expression on his face, look in his eyes, is what I see happen when he sings a song he wrote that was on Alternate Roots' first album, Tales of Love and Sorrow, called The Workin. Out in the country where he lived in eastern Kentucky 10 miles from Hazard, at various times of the year the farmers of an area work together from farm to farm, putting up hay and so on. The women brought food for lunch time. A social time. In Willard's song, somebody sees some people 'comin round the bend,' and somebody is sent to 'catch a big fat hen.' When Willard sings, his eyes are mostly closed. When he sang that song, he would look up at the audience just before he said the line, 'catch a big fat hen,' and he'd close them again when it was finished. I wanted his eyes open in the portrait, so I caught him looking up, saying, Catch a big fat hen.

The hat and the pants were originally intended to be different colors from how they ended up. The pants I set out to make gray. I covered the areas where his pants showed, the tops of the upper legs as sitting down, painted a gray to fill in the area where the pants were to be. The ballcap I intended to make dark olive green with a dark blue bill. I set down the shape of the hat on his head with a kind of light tan color, just to place the hat. I set out to put white on the places on his hat and upper legs of his pants where the light fell on them. I used a big brush to smear the white on, merely for guideline while painting the hat and pants. There it was. It was so much to my satisfaction that I never touched hat or pants again. Now his hat and pants are white, which works best for the painting's composition.

I actually would be satisfied to keep it on one of my walls. This is my goal when I set out on every painting I start, to be satisfied enough with it I'd be happy to keep it when nobody buys it. When I paint what I like, then I'm happy to keep them. I've painted my pets, keeping them on the living room wall. Selling paintings is such a drag, dealing with galleries, but it has to be done when one is on the climb. I'm not on the climb, so I'd rather my friends have my paintings. You might say I have no ambition as I don't pursue making money by painting. I do have one ambition, however, which is to make the paintings so they have a living spirit about them. I feel like I reached that place with Willard, that sense of a living person. I'm satisfied that he came to life. All the more satisfied the eyes are alive. It's a quality of the spirit I'm after in a portrait. I feel like I succeed in each one or I wouldn't let them be seen by anyone. It feels like Willard is there in spirit. That's my highest ideal, and I believe it has been touched. That's also my ambition. It's where I get my satisfaction.


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