I can’t remember a time when I didn’t want to draw; receiving my first official Jon Gnagy Art Set as a child, then, years later, enrollment at the Harris School of Art in Franklin, Tennessee. Harris School was unique in offering a rigorous curriculum that combined advertising art and fine art.
My painting career began in Abingdon, Virginia, in 1990, when I was awarded the commission to paint a portrait of the retiring artistic director of the renowned Barter Theater. The portrait was unveiled on stage at The Barter, before a full house. I, somehow, thought I would “ease” my way into my portrait career, rather than jumping in with both feet. It was, however, a success and still hangs in the lobby at The Barter. I have been painting commissioned portraits consistently since that time.
I attribute Harris School to my strong skills and belief in the fundamentals of drawing and painting, along with my awareness of how these basic principles apply to any art form and medium. I believe the understanding of values, which give form and depth, is one of the most important aspects of representational painting, along with the crucial requirement of observation.
Of all our choices in subject matter, the human figure intrigues me the most. It is an intricately complex and mystifying subject, and, of course, is most challenging. This art form is the basis of my career and ongoing education. My enthusiasm and energy never seem to run out when it comes to observing the features and colors that are found in the face. My awareness of our uniquely created, individual selves continually heightens my intrigue. The human face also reveals that individual who is inside; the one who gives that face its most unique presence.
I love doing commission work, with all the possibilities that a new portrait brings. I begin every commission with due respect and sensitivity toward my client. At our initial meeting, I show up with no preconceived ideas of the type of portrait it will be; thus, our journey begins together. “Together” is the key word here; I do not travel this journey alone. It has been said to me, more than once, that I am a bit unusual in my approach to portraiture. In the first phase, I invite my client to join me in particular aspects of the decision-making process. I find it beneficial to work in collaboration at the start, so that everyone’s thoughts are being brought to light.
The preliminary work is necessary in designing the composition, as well as offering time to familiarize myself with the subject. Once my ideas have been represented on paper, I bring them to my clients for their perusal, allowing time for discussion. When the composition has been selected, it is time for me to stretch the canvas and start to work on the portrait. Well into the painting, but before completion, I arrange another viewing. This meeting is met with much excitement and enhances the long anticipated outcome.
I am grateful for all these years I have been painting commissioned portraits and especially grateful for the opportunity to provide families and organizations with a work of art that will last for centuries. My desire to grow as an artist keeps me striving for new opportunities to learn the fine art of oil portraiture. I will remain a student as long as I am able to continue this work that is an inherent part of my design.
You can see my professional credentials on the “About” page.