I think the tradition of presidential oil portraiture is a beautiful thing. A portrait is a fantasy. When the fantasy succeeds, it activates the viewer’s imagination, triggering empathy and giving an illusion of insight into the subject. A good portrait exists in the gap between how the subject wants to be seen and how the artist sees them. A portrait is less about capturing someone than about creating something. Both these portraits accomplish all that. I like to think mine do as well.
One hopes we are bringing something beautiful into a dark world. Richard Avedon famously said that “All photographs are accurate, none of them is the truth.” Perhaps truth can be found only in the painted portrait. I don’t think about who the subject is that I am painting. I’m only ever asking one question when I paint: how can I make this individual appear even kinder and more lovable than I found them? Years can go by in an instant when you’re an artist. Yet only a great portraitist can capture an instant in time that can be appreciated for years to come. I will wrap up these thoughts about portraiture with this quote from Picasso:
I would like to prevent people from ever seeing how a picture of mine has been done. What can it possibly matter? What I want is that the only thing emanating from my pictures should be emotion.” Pablo Picasso