nearly narcissus in new york city

NarcissusCaravaggio, Narcissus, 110 x 92 cm

The other day, I was making my way back from a visit to the Grand Central Academy of Art.  For the avid reader of my blog, that previous line is all of the "art" that will be contained in this blog.  But, to continue, as I made my way downtown Manhattan, I decided to skirt the outside of Bryant Park.  In the distance, I could see a plethora of camera wielding paparazzi, a few large convention tents, and a swaying mass of sycophants.  They were giddy with expectation.  I quickened my steps past them, lest I interrupt the ceremony of whomever it was being apotheosized.

As I rounded the corner, I was suddenly confronted with twenty men, standing in line on the sidewalk.  I instantly discerned that these men were not mere mortals.  They were twenty young stallions, confident, concupiscent, coquettish creatures, each bedecked and bedazzled in foppish fashion.  They were male runway models, the Brahman of high society.  There they stood- cool, calm, with their chests thrust forward, their shoulders back, and their lips out.  Their mouths turned downwards at the corners, their noses sneered.  Their very eyelids seemed heavy with disinterest in all of human affairs.  Each man effortlessly affected a manufactured detachment, with nonchalant and distant stares at something on the horizon.  I eventually realized that all twenty of their gazes were actually directed towards the reflective glass building on the other side of the street.

They were all six feet tall.  So am I.  They were all wearing linen button down shirts.  So was I, except I decided to employ all of my buttons.  I could unbutton a few.  They all had their hair slicked back.  I could slick my hair back.

And then, suddenly, I realized why I had been placed on this particular planet, at this particular location on the earth, at this moment in time.  I was preordained by the heavens, before the planets were set into their orbits, to be the twenty first model.  It was destiny for me to be here, for this moment in eternity.  In an outpouring of wrath upon the idol worshipers, I was to be a rod of judgment- though in a sarcastic, satirical sort of way.  I, Kevin McEvoy, was destined to walk in that line as the twenty first runway model, into that tent which was festooned with images of Mercedes Benz, into that seething mass of oogling idolators.  I was meant to walk behind these models, and mock them ever so subtly- sneer just a bit more, puff out my lips just a bit further, swagger ever so much.  I got into the line behind them, aware that I was heading toward certain martyrdom, yet focusing on the glory to come of such an act of heroism.  The gods were with me.

I stood on the back of the line, thrusting out my chest, sneering my nose, staring deeply at some point on the horizon.  It was our turn to enter the tent.  Any second now.

And then, after a minute of sweating palms, waiting, I stepped out of the line.  I chickened out.

I slipped back into the crowd, an anonymous, spineless waste of destiny.  The heavens let out a sigh of disappointment.

I am so annoyed at myself.  Agh.  I will always regret my cowardice, and I vow to never again shrink from an opportunity like that.

self portrait in november

self port nov 09Self Portrait in November, oil on panel, 10 x 14

Well, I didn't have anything or anybody to paint today, and so here I am again.  I started this painting a while ago, though I left it sit for a while as I worked on other painting projects.  I do that- at any given time, I have eleven or twelve paintings going.  It's just how my brain works, I suppose, and it seems to drive my wife crazy.

I chose to paint this sketch underneath a skylight, located in another part of the warehouse which houses my studio.  I just felt that the overhead lighting was in keeping with my mood today.

I want to work on this painting again, to refine it, to smooth some transitions.  But overall, I am fine with this little sketch.

I didn't crop the first photograph, so as to give the reader an idea of the small scale of the piece as it sits on the easel.  I had to photograph it under electric lights, which makes the background seem uniform and black.  It's not, it's actually quite brushy and thin, but the sameness of the electric lights, combined with the generalizing eye of the camera, have made this sketch seem much more opaque and polarized.

painting in progress

patricia, 1

So I've been pretty busy lately, and here is a progress shot of one of my most recent works.  I am excited to be working on this painting.  The model, Patricia, has really striking, dark features, which contrasts with the white dress and white background.  It is a large piece, about five feet by four feet.  Using the same techniques that I learned during my period of study at the Cecil Studios in Florence, I maintain a fifteen to twenty foot distance from the canvas and model.  I only come close for a few brush strokes, and then I back away again.  Sargent is said to have painted this way, as it enabled him to see the whole picture.  When they recovered a rug from one of his studios, they found that it was worn through to the floor, beginning at his easel and going back twenty feet.  I am in my new studio, and the light on the model is really beautiful.  The light is becoming cooler as the winter draws near, and it just works really well with the white on white theme of the painting.

Some individuals are off in their understanding of painting, as is evidenced in the descriptive language that can sometimes be used.  X-rays of paintings reveal that hands and faces and entire figures are moved back and forth, up and down.  I've come across some art historians, in books and lectures, that view these under layers as mistakes, as "pentimenti."  Pentimenti derives from the Italian word "pentirsi", meaning "to repent."  However, these changes are a part of the artistic process (which some art historians well know.)  One day, I come in and entirely reposition a limb, the next day I completely wipe out an eye.  I don't view these changes as mistakes, but rather, they are a part of the natural evolution of the work as I understand more about the sitter and the painting.  In this work, I am simply figuring out things as I paint- how the position of arms agree with the expression of the face, how dark hair serves to emphasize the line of the shoulders, how personality is reflected in the eyebrows.  I really enjoy this aspect of "life" painting- painting not from a photograph, but from a person.  It is the only way to truly capture a person's soul.


the portrait I never painted

Almost every morning, Margaret asks me whether I am going to make coffee.  And almost every morning, I respond with "nah, I feel like going and getting a coffee today."  We've done the numbers, we both know how much of my annual paycheck goes to Starbucks... and yet, I keep going.

One chilly morning, about two years ago, Henry wandered into Starbucks.  He had wiry grey hair, a white beard that tumbled down to his stomach, and deep wrinkles that buried his otherwise clear eyes.  He was pushing a cart of some sort, which identified him as being homeless.  Otherwise, you would never know he was homeless, as he was very cleanly dressed.  As I leafed through the New York Times, he wandered over to the table next to me.  He brought his own teabag and cup, and had bought boiling water from Starbucks for twelve cents.

As I read, he made a comment on the article I was reading.  I don't remember the article or the specific comment, but he was obviously well informed on recent international events.  As we continued to talk, he asked me what I did for a living.  Naturally, it led to me showing him my portrait brochure.  He replied "Oh, you've obviously been trained in the visual, naturalistic tradition.  You are an artist in the vein of Velazquez, the Spanish baroque tradition of painting."  I was absolutely stunned.  In all the time I have been home in New York, absolutely nobody has ever figured this out- it was entirely accurate!  Our friendship was instantly made.  We spent most of our time talking about Thoreau and Wendell Berry.

Naturally, the next thing I asked him was whether I could paint his portrait.  He was a perfect sitter- he was a wonderful cross between a grizzled hobo and Moses, as he descended Mount Sinai radiating with shekinah glory.  He smiled, quickly declined my request, then proceeded to exhibit signs of the illness that had perhaps made him homeless.  He believed he was being followed by the U.S. government, he believed they been tapping all of his past phone lines, that he had top secret information, etc.  His bout of ranting only lasted a few minutes, and other than that he was very clearheaded.  He never brought it up again.

Every morning, I got coffee and Henry got tea.  Sometimes we would talk for a half hour or so, sometimes only for a minute, but always long enough to see how the other was getting along.  About a year later, Henry came into Starbucks, wheezing and coughing.  It was getting cold again, and at the age of seventy one years old, he was sleeping alone in a makeshift hut in the woods of Islip.  I was so upset to see him suffer.  I set out trying to find him some low income housing, though I couldn't find him anything at all.

At night, I would stare at the ceiling and wonder how Henry was doing, how it was for him sleeping alone in the woods.  I thought of him as the frost built up on the window panes, I thought of him as I chopped wood in my yard.  I was so worried that he was going to die, alone, in the woods somewhere in Islip.  I just couldn't bear the thought of him dying alone.  I thought of hiking through the many hundreds of acres, trying to find his hut.  I wondered if Margaret and I could bring him dinner, something.

One morning, Henry didn't come into Starbucks.  I had a hard time painting that day.

He didn't come the next day either.

I drove around Islip, hoping I would see him pushing his cart.

One day, a friend of mine came to me.  "Kevin, did you hear about your friend Henry?"  My stomach turned.  I told him I hadn't heard anything.  "Well, he was at a charity dinner, with a bunch of his friends at a Lutheran church in Sayville.  He was in mid sentence, and he had a brain aneurysm.  He died instantly.  But, his friends said he was in very high spirits that night, that he was laughing and talking as usual."

Strangely, I was okay with the news.  He had died, happy, laughing, talking with friends.  It wasn't alone, in a shack in the woods, coughing- he was with his friends.

My only regret was that Henry had not let me paint his portrait.  I wish that I had been able to retain his spirit in a portrait, in a sense giving him immortality.  Reflecting on Henry's death, I have never been more convinced of the power of painting, of art.  Keats is the only one that can sum up my thoughts on portraiture, on this "flowery band that... bind(s) us to the earth."

A thing of beauty is a joy for ever:
Its loveliness increases; it will never
Pass into nothingness; but still will keep
A bower quiet for us, and a sleep
Full of sweet dreams, and health, and quiet breathing.
Therefore, on every morrow, are we wreathing
A flowery band to bind us to the earth,
Spite of despondence, of the inhuman dearth
Of noble natures, of the gloomy days,
Of all the unhealthy and o'er-darkened ways
Made for our searching: yes, in spite of all,
Some shape of beauty moves away the pall
From our dark spirits.

John Keats, Endymion

fireside sketch

fireside, maggie 3 low rezMaggie, oil on panel, 6" x 6"

When Margaret and I got back from Montauk the other day, I guess she could tell that I was frustrated that my painting did not happen.  She knows that I can't go a day without painting, or else I get really frustrated.  And so, she suggested that I paint, even though it was ten at night.  I picked up my paints from my studio, and set up in our living room.  Having gotten a fire going, Margaret sat down to pose for the painting.  Initially, I had another light on in the room, but the additional light source threw off the shadows.  And so, I shut off all other lights, and decided to paint simply by firelight.  Being that this is such a small painting, I figured that the pressure was off.  Thinking of my paintings in such a dispensable way enables me to paint at ease, and be a bit more creative.

The room was pitch black, save the flickering light on the canvas.  I had a really hard time mixing colors, in fact it was impossible.  I kind of mixed what I thought might work, rather than what looked right.  I could barely see the marks that I was making on the canvas, it was so black.  And, every time that I looked into the fire, it took a minute for my eyes to adjust and be able to see Margaret's face again.  Not being able to see the canvas or the palette was kind of exciting- kind of like the feeling you would have, as a kid, when you would close your eyes and try to navigate through your house.

A half an hour later, I had this small sketch.  I don't know how it rates, but to tell you the truth, I am not too concerned.  I just know that it is a fun sketch.  I liked it so much, that I might try a similar composition on a larger canvas.


montauk w liam, 2

Well, headed out to Montauk today with Margaret and Liam.  I wanted to spend a few hours on a small landscape sketch, being that the sky was such a cool, blue grey.  We arrived at Montauk Point, and I was all eager.  I opened my truck door, and then... the wind blew my truck door closed, slammed it actually.  I suddenly realized that I wouldn't be doing any seaside painting.  Instead, Margaret, Liam, and I bundled ourselves up, and hiked some trails along the water.  Sorry that I look so contemplative in this photo, in fact, Liam and I are just bracing ourselves against a really powerful wind, hence the squinty eyes.  Then, we headed to the other side of Montauk, to the commercial, fishing boat section.  We had a good time wandering around the docks, looking at all of the rusting boats.  They looked like sleeping dinosaurs, old and decrepit ones at that.  We talked with the captain of the Evening Prayer, a really cool guy who moved to Montauk from Nassau County 30 years ago.  He was such an interesting guy, so kindspoken.  He started as a deckhand on a fishing partyboat, and is now the owner of three enormous fishing vessels.  He would be the coolest subject for a painting.  He made me rethink where I want to live on Long Island...

in the new studio

patricia and painting, first day

Here's a photo taken in my new studio, the old church chapel that has fifteen foot tall windows.  I am so pleased with the light in this studio, it is just amazing.  Pastor Dave Moore, of Islip Presbyterian, is the one who helped me out by getting me this space.  If I were to have a million dollars, I couldn't design a studio with better windows for lighting.

This photo is of a woman, Patricia, who is posing for my next painting.  She is really great to work with, and I am very excited to work on this piece.  In this shot, you can see that I am only about a half hour in, if I remember correctly, so everything is still in a very rough, gestured state.  The emphasis, at this early in the painting, is not at all on details, but rather on the overall shapes, the light and shadow.  In fact, I have not even put in the light paint yet, and you can see that I have only painted the shadows so far.  Seconds after taking this shot, I had already moved the shoulders around, changed the position of the ear, changed the shape of the hair, etc.

We spent about an hour setting everything up for the painting.  While keeping everything as natural as possible, I had her sit in several different ways, angled toward, then away from the light.  Eventually, I decided on this pose.  I am really excited to be working on this piece, especially because the Salmagundi Club has an upcoming show which is specifically for large paintings.

rembrandt, q-tips, and plexiglass

rembrandt copy of susanna and elders, low rezCopy after Rembrandt's Woman Bathing in Stream, ink on plexiglass, 16" x 20"

This is, by far, one of the more unusual mediums that I have ever worked in.  It is white plexiglass, with black ink.  That's it.  No white paint at all.  For me, this little sketch was a milestone in painting.  I suddenly understood how light worked.  Here's how it happened.

The plexiglass, being white, was covered entirely with black ink.  You actually roll it onto the plexi with a roller, much like a roller used to paint walls with.  Once the ink has been applied, you then have a few minutes to work, before the ink dries onto the plexi.  How do you create light?  You pull off ink, rather than applying.  Everything is dark until light hits it.  Earlier in the day, I had made a copy of Rembrandt's Woman Bathing in a Stream, and had the photocopy there in the studio.  I then borrowed some cotton Q-tips that some girl had in her makeup bag, and rolled up some paper towels.  And so, having inked the plexiglass, and armed with nothing but Q-tips and paper towel, I quickly set to work.

I would describe the next twenty minutes of work, but truthfully, I can't remember them.  I just remember working in a fury, pulling the ink off delicately yet rapidly, moving the ink around with the cotton, at times moving it with my fingers.  Twenty minutes passed, and I stepped back and looked at my work.  It really surprised me, in that I never thought that something of this magnitude could be created with such unlikely tools.  But that's just it, it is the revelation behind the medium that matters.

In Genesis, it says "In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth...and darkness was over the face of the deep... and God said "Let there be light", and there was light."  But it doesn't say that God created the sun or any stars until much later.  So, is the light in Genesis a metaphor for revelation?  The painter in me wants to think so.

Rembrandt-woman-bathing-stream-2Rembrandt, Woman Bathing in a Stream, oil on linen


captain wally low rezCaptain Wally, 20" x 24", oil on linen

When Margaret and had just arrived back in New York, I was in the stage of restarting the engine of my business, which had been sitting idle for the months we had been abroad.  It's not that business in New York was completely gone, it's just that I needed to change some of the belts in the engine, pull some bee's nests out of the radiator, etc.  And so, as I was painting a self portrait and dwelling on this problem, my phone in my studio rang.  I picked it up, and a familiar voice said "Hey Kev, it's Paul, how's it going?"  Paul and his wife have already bought nine paintings from me, ranging from small still life work to enormous figure paintings.  He proceeded to ask me how business was, and quickly said "Well, if that's the case, let me help you out by commissioning a painting which I have been thinking of for a while now.  You paint it, and just let me know later how much it will cost."  What a godsend.

Paul went on to tell me that, every year, he and his wife make a trip up to some obscure harbour in Maine.  There's a commercial fisherman up there, by the name of Wally, who takes Paul out on his boat during his annual visit.  I believe that Paul simply asked him if he could give a hand for the day, and the captain was glad to have him on board.  And so, Paul simply set traps, cleaned up, etc.  While on board, Paul snapped a bunch of shots with his digital camera.

The painting which Paul commissioned was that of his friend, the Captain Wally.  The only problem was that the captain was not able to pose for the painting, for reasons that I can't state here.  And so, Paul volunteered a photograph.  Now, I categorically do not work from photographs, except in the instance of an extremely young child, or a death, etc.  But being that the circumstances were indeed extenuating, I agreed to look at the photo.  It turned out to be an incredible photograph, absolutely stunning.  Paul terms himself as a simple businessman, but he has a rare ability to capture light.  And actually, as of a month ago, he won his first award in a nationwide photo competition.

I set to work, painting from this photograph.  The painting was a new challenge for me, in that the colour scheme was so dramatically different.  I studied Sorolla a lot, looking at his works in The Hispanic Society of America, located in Harlem, to get an idea of how to implement the idea of chiaroscuro in an outdoor setting.

A few weeks later, the painting was finished, and I dropped the painting off at Paul's house.  I really enjoyed painting the sunlight on the captain's face, and painting a figure in a dramatically different setting.  I struggled with the idea of "finish" in this painting, in that I had to be very careful of overdoing it.  I couldn't erase all brushstrokes, or the painting would descend into a banal copy of a digital photo.  And so, I wrestled with the idea of leaving things in a suggested state.  Overall, I am happy with the final result, and I am glad to hear that some people consider this as being one of their favorites of all my works.

casptain wally zoom 2 low rez


DSCN0046Boots, 18" x 24", oil on linen

I sat in my studio for a long time today, and I didn't know what to paint.  Then I took off my boots, and started painting.  These boots just somehow addressed the idea of labour, of the exchange of labour for money.  Here is the painting that resulted.