Thursday, August 4, 2011


"A man is a success if he gets up in the morning,
and gets to bed at night, and in between
he does what he wants to do."~Bob Dylan

Recently I had the opportunity to crash at my friend Joe's place in Chicago. It was my first time in the Windy City and I was captivated by it. I stopped by on my way to the Midwest and then back again on the return journey. Each time we spent time up on the roof of his warehouse loft in the Fulton Market area. It is filled by day with lots of activity: meat packers, milk and egg distributors, etc. It also has a smattering of quaint little bistros offering some pretty amazing craft beer. It is very close to the downtown area yet seems to be removed and in its own little world. 

As a thanks for letting me stay at his place, I painted this little portrait of Joe. He's an old soul living in the body of a 23 year old. He is, among other things, a philosopher, a great photographer and a professional barista with Intelligentsia coffee. 

We met each other via a mutual interest in the life of Christopher McCandless. Our friendship has subsequently been enriched by a love of photography and the beauty of the world around us, good coffee and living a life of exploration. 

 Joe standing atop his apartment pointing out the various landmarks around his place..

"Joe", oil on panel, 10"x8", 2011, is a little thank-you for great hospitality. It is earthy and humble, like Joe. He has a favourite chair in his apartment, a chair in which he photographs all of his house guests before they depart. I sat in this chair and he took my photograph, and then I had him sit in the chair for my own photo reference. The "Joe" painting is the result of that photo shoot. 

The end to a great evening of great conversation, with the Sears Tower in the background

I haven't painted a direct portrait like "Joe" for a long time. To paint someone directly, to scan their features and try to interpret them in a meaningful way is difficult and thrilling because of its difficulty. The challenge is to see if one can infuse some magic into their features, to breathe life into a person that already lives and walks the earth. Many artists paint people, but the true test is to see if we can place the person's character into the piece, to mix some of their soul in with the pigment. 

Over the last few months I have concentrated on painting the figure in a more oblique way; mixed in with folds of sheets or silhouetted in doorways. They are in their own world, they are a part of the narrative that surrounds them. However to paint a simple, direct portrait one must abandon the accoutrements of the person's environment and simply focus on their features. The set of their brow, the curve of their mouth--these things are all who they are, and like no one else in the world. It is beautifully confounding and enticing.

As time passes I am trying to paint more people in exchange for travel or other great opportunities. It is a great and symbiotic exchange. It is a way of expressing is what the artist can offer as our own appreciation to others for their kindness. It is the best currency of all.

On my return trip it was stiflingly hot in Joe's apartment. He pointed out his neighbour's hammock in the loft next door. He has slept here upon occasion and offered it to me as a choice of place to lay my head for the night. I knew it would be an interesting experience and I was right. I woke up to the El trains starting their day at 4:30am, then the birds starting theirs around 5am, and then the hum of the forklifts around 6am. It was unique and wonderful. Here is a photo of the view I woke up to...

5am view of the Chicago skyline from the hammock on the rooftop..

Have a beautiful day/evening/morning, wherever you may be...

"We shall not cease from our exploration and at the end 
of our exploring will be to arrive where we started...and know
that place for the first time."~T.S. Eliot


Caio Fern said...

fatastic post and painting.

liz wiltzen said...

Wonderful post and a fabulous portrait Heather. Bravo.

Mobile Art Lounge said...

Your portraits are amazing - we would love to feature + your work on our site - if you are interested!

Peggi Habets said...

Wonderful portrait, Heather! Love the looseness of your brushstrokes and the simplicity of the palette.

Amylee said...

Fabulous Joe !!! Great blog.