As I begin working more with portraits and the figure I can't help but keep going back to my former teacher and friend, Stephen Brown. When I arrived at art school most of my previous knowledge of art was from comic books and what little art history I paid attention to in high school. (My high school art teacher was fantastic, but that's for another time.) I also saw illustration as a path towards a tangible career. Like most young students I was kind of lost. At the same time I really wasn't getting the kind of education I desired. To the schools defense I wasn't as committed a student as I should have been. I spent more time rolling joints than I did stretching canvases... live and learn.
Back to Stephen.
At a faculty exhibit (Hartford Art School) I saw this small self portrait, that from across the room, was able to hit me straight in my gut. I believe this was my first genuine experience with the power of painting. I had never experienced such a visceral reaction from a picture hanging on a wall in my life. Yes the portrait was well executed and looked very "real" but for all it's great technical accomplishments what got me was just how "human" it felt. Here was this paining of an older guy who I had never met but suddenly I felt this deep shared connection with. This man was obviously an accomplished painter yet his portrait contained all of the vulnerability, the searching, and tension that I was (and still am) experiencing. I went and met with Stephen shortly after and have loved both him and his work ever since. I've committed myself to painting ever since.
Through practice, you and I can learn how to paint a convincing portrait, put the eyes and nose where they belong and figure out a decent formula for achieving flesh tones; but to paint with that much integrity, to expose ourselves, to be so brutally honest is really something else, and that something else can be quite powerful.
These are some examples of Stephen's portraits. The first image is that first self portrait of his that I saw.