How Artists See Each Other


By Max Gillies

William A. Schneider (b. 1945), Sunspot, 2017, pastel on archival support on board, 20 x 16 in., private collection

For centuries, visual artists have taken a close look at other people, and the fruits of their labors are especially intriguing when they turn their gaze to other artists. The latter might include not only other visual artists, but also musicians, dancers, and even fencers (who, after all, perform a kind of dance with their épées). Often the relationship between creator and sitter is close — this might be a mentor or pupil being painted — but other times the image suggests some emotional or physical distance.

Elena Degenhardt (b. 1977), The Depths Below (Portrait of Artist Francien Krieg), 2023, soft pastel on paper, 18 x 12 in., 33 Contemporary (Chicago and Miami)
Perrin Sparks (b. 1946), Working the Stone, 2018, pastel on paper, 30 x 21 in., private collection

The real fizz comes, of course, from the fact that both parties are “in on” the process: the sitter already knows how challenging it is to capture the likeness, or at least the spirit, of someone else. Sometimes we can almost imagine a conversation occurring between the two parties: for example, “Why don’t you pose me at this angle so you can catch more sunlight on my face?” (Perhaps the response is “No thanks, I prefer this angle. Please sit still.”)

Ilene Gienger-Stanfield (b. 1956), Street Notes, 2008, soft pastel on paper, 12 1/2 x 19 1/2 in., available through the artist
Traci Wright Martin (b. 1980), Both/And, 2022, charcoal and pastel on paper, 20 x 16 in., Grand Bohemian Lodge Gallery (Greenville, South Carolina)

Whatever the interaction, this scenario gives the creator more room to experiment, to take chances. Even if the image has been commissioned, it won’t necessarily need to look a certain way. It’s probably not going to hang in a corporate boardroom, so everyone involved can have a bit of fun with the composition or the coloring. Thus we see here — to cite only two examples — Elena Degenhardt’s vision of Francien Krieg immersed in water, or Guy Clement Joy’s close-up of Jim McVicker squinting in the sunshine. These are wonderfully unconventional ways to see someone else, and we salute all of the artists represented here for reminding us that there is always a new creative path to pursue, even in a genre as ostensibly limiting as portraiture.

Luana Luconi Winner (b. 1949), Artist Series: Mickey, Potter Sculptor Setting the Rim, 1990, pastel on paper, 36 x 48 in., collection of Mr. and Mrs. James Gault

Brush up on your portrait painting skills with William A. Schneider as demonstrates his process in Pastel Painting Secrets.


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