In 2003, I enrolled in an intimate, atelier-like studio run by Wells College in the 20th arrondissement of Paris, France to study the realism techniques of the Old Masters. My first oil painting class followed classical methods of art-making, including learning how to grind all our own pigments, cure linseed oil, and make gesso from a 15th century recipe. This labor intensive process contextualized the technical concerns artists of the Renaissance dealt with as well as prepared me for copying two masterpieces. My very first oil painting “Madonna and Child” (above, bottom right) was an attempt to copy Orazio Gentileschi’s painting. This first Master Copy served the purpose of practicing color matching and paint handling techniques before I was to paint in the Louvre Museum’s Master Copy Program.
In the Louvre, I chose to copy Jean Baptiste Santerre’s painting of “Suzanne Au Bain.” Three days a week for two months, I passed through the Sully Pavillion, wheeled the massive easel out of its private supply closet, and used an electric lift to reach the 2nd floor. Painting completed (above, left) December, 2003.
While I was studying oil painting I also began taking live figure drawing classes from Kathy Burke. Her unique approach to capturing the energy of the human form had a profound influence on my own philosophy. Kathy taught me to see with new "artist eyes," to measure proporations organically by seeking connective tissues, and to express with deft, dancing strokes. She recommended I keep a sketchbook outside of class and I soon filled several, sneaking glances at passengers on the metro and studying masterworks in museums all over Paris. On my days off from painting in the Louvre, I'd often walk the Pont des Arts, across the Seine, to the Musee D'Orsay. This museum soon became my favorite with the vibratingly fresh paintings, drawings and sculptures by the Impressionist artists Paris so famously brought together. I was shocked by how contemporary the impressionists work felt, as though everything had been created mere moments before. The abstract daubs of paint woven into coherent images and the wild gestural lines capturing the movement of real people was so distinctly different from the polished realism and idealization of the human form so prevalent in the Louvre. I was inspired to further experiment with oils on my own and began painting self portraits and inviting friends to pose in my small room at the Cite Universitaire.
What resulted was a collection of oil paintings both bold in their colorations and brushwork. I dove into these "alla prima" portraits with no understanding of the rich history of this genre. I didn't even know there was a name for such things. By following my instincts and allowing paint to just be paint, I let the mood of the moment dictate my colors and expression.