Thursday, March 25, 2010


Just for kicks – or, more accurately, out of curiosity and general art nerdy-ness – I went to a Nelson Shanks portrait painting demonstration last night here in Philadelphia. Though I’ve never been 100% sold on the Shanks methodology, as I'm less inclined toward the high chroma going on in his palette and in his paintings, I'm really quite glad I went to the demo; it was surprisingly affirming, inspiring and informative, all at the same time. This, despite the fact that the evening's portrait subject (local radio personality Michael Smerconish) was of little interest to me – was, in fact, completely unknown to me before this event. Not so for the rest of the audience, evidently – there were plenty of people conversing at an unfortunate volume during the proceedings, which I took to be emanating from those less interested in the painting process than in being in the presence of said Radio Personality. Grrr.

The "live painting demo" concept in general is a strange beast, really, when you think about it; especially when presented for an audience composed predominantly of non-artists, it almost comes off as a peculiar spectacle, a sort of magic show or other novelty. As though the artist is pulling off some kind of entertaining and mildly amusing trick: Watch as the AMAZING art-man turns seemingly random strokes of paint into a recognizable human face!! BEHOLD!!! *gasps from audience* Watch as one deft placement of a paint daub renders the eye liquid-y and three-dimensional!!! *audience bursts into applause.* Even within the vaguely circus-like nature this format lends itself to, however, it definitely was interesting to observe someone else at work making those critical decisions about color, tone, shape, form, value and so forth with which I am so familiar – yet in front of not only a live model but also A LIVE AUDIENCE. No pressure! And, I have to say, the man's got some serious chops, I can't deny him that. Here's a finished version of the portrait sketch:

Nelson Shanks’ portrait sketch of Michael Smerconish