The diptych that reinforced my belief in the profound link between romance and portraiture.
In the spring of 2018, I received an inquiry about my work and whether I accepted commissions.
This woman was Canadian photographer Victoria Santana. She was interested in knowing if I might consider painting the American photographer Alfred Stieglitz. Her desire was to offer this painting to her husband as a gift.
Alfred Stieglitz was a pioneer of photography as an art form and the husband of painter Georgia O’Keeffe. Georgia O’Keeffe’s work is iconic, I don’t need to present her. Everyone has in mind her stylized paintings of flowers, for instance, that unfold like sensual origami vaginas. But check out Stieglitz’ work if you don’t know him. He was part of the Photo-Secession movement. Among his works are astonishing portraits of his artist wife.
The story of Georgia and Alfred is an epic love story. A year after the Alfred portrait, Victoria’s husband Mark quietly came to me to commission a painting of Georgia. The two would be depicted on canvases of the same size and would be hung side by side in their home.
I loved this idea very much. It inspired me to paint diptychs in my series of couple portraits called “What would I be without you” that I presented in Toronto last November.
It reinforced my belief that there’s a profound link between couple relationships and portraiture.
First, portraits often serve as substitutes for loved ones that are away. Second, I also receive a lot of commission requests from couples. This leads me to think that portraits are the best way to celebrate a strong bound between two humans.
The couple who commissioned these portraits is composed of two very kind individuals. Victoria is a photographer who is profoundly drawn to the pictorialism of the Photo-Secession movement, founded by Stieglitz. Victoria photographs with black and white film using a vintage, medium format Rolleiflex. In her words, “I use a painterly approach — a slow gentle approach to portrait photography”. You can see her work here.
At my last exhibition in Toronto, I met Victoria’s husband Mark, a dentist and lover of all things food. We had a really nice visit and a long chat. He told me about a trip he once made with Victoria to Paris. With jet-lag and time to kill while waiting for their room, they took a bench in the beautiful Tuileries Gardens, just off from the Louvre and behind their hotel. Not unlike the Rodin in front of them, arm in arm in the warm sun of the day, they fell asleep.
The people who passed by could have easily robbed them. Fortunately, nothing of that sort happened.
The reason I’m telling this is because this story printed an image in my mind. I like to imagine these two bodies sleeping in public under the sun in a foreign country with wallets easily accessible. I don’t think there’s a better image to illustrate what a couple truly is: being in love and vulnerable together.
Victoria and Mark found me through Samuel Beckett. I think this love story finishes with Samuel Beckett too. Mark keeps on his website, an oh so simple and beautiful poem, I think for obvious reasons.
“We spend our life, it’s ours, trying to bring together in the same instant a ray of sunshine and free bench.” – Samuel Beckett
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