ArtQuench Gallery Announces
Jennifer Bilek The Winner
Of the “Summer” Art Competition
Jennifer has won one year of representation with AQG
View Jennifer’s Profile Page
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New Art Competition has begun “October Vibe” ENTER HERE
Winning Image titled: Portrait of Charlie
Juror Monica Hicks
There is nothing that reminds me more of “summer” than the face of a child when it’s over. The cool yellows and beige painted on his left cheek evoke feelings that mark the ending of a moment. His asymmetrical features are honest and kind. I imagine in his eyes that sand castles at the beach, long hours with video games, and days without needing to do his hair are soon to be missed memories.
The use of a cooler color palette creates that nostalgic feeling. Even the greyish-blue shadowing of his right eye seems like a fun summer injury, if interpreted as such. Portraiture in this style lacks considerable detail, of the hair for instance; rather the style is expressive and playful. The shapes of color along the boy’s cheeks, nose, lips and chin remind me of Chuck Close’s use of hue interpretation and abstract expressionism, signatures of his photorealistic portraits.
Art claimed me very young, and immediately I was captivated by the human face and form.
My grandmother bought me a box of one hundred Crayola crayons, in colors I’d never seen, when I was six years old. The spectrum of colors seemed boundless and filled me with joy. I began using my colors, like many children of that age, using coloring books and filling in the black and white forms on the pages. But I was only interested in the faces and bodies in my coloring books. I would spend hours mixing colors of crayons to make the faces and bodies seem real and when I finished to my satisfaction I would go onto the next face and body, leaving the rest of the picture devoid of color.
When my brothers and cousins were outside playing kickball, I would often be tucked away in some corner making something. I created furniture for my dolls, I sewed clothes and constructed puppets, I weaved, crocheted and colored. I glued, cut and pasted. I imagined with such fierce concentration, that not only did the world outside of my creations disappear, but I too disappeared. All that remained was love. I belonged to something bigger than myself in those moments.
My maternal grandmother, a concert violinist and accomplished pianist before she was married, recognized a creative need in me and was the first and only person to ever nurture my abilities until I could take over. When I was a young child creating, she would shoo my brothers away from me whenever they came near. My grandmother purchased my first oil paints and books about painting, for me, when I was eleven years old. Immediately, I began creating a portrait of a child from a photograph in a magazine. This was the beginning of my life as a portrait painter.
Once I began painting portraits, drawing and other creative endeavors subsided. I needed to paint portraits. It was a simple fact. I was driven. Something came through me when I sat down to create a portrait. This act both separated me from the mundane tasks of life and time, and connected me to all that is majestic about life. This connection fed me with inspiration, happiness and confidence. It was also enjoyable to see others respond to my portraiture. The more I engaged in painting, the more it claimed me. There was no end to my fascination with getting inside of people through portraiture and my paintings fascinated onlookers as well.
In my mid-twenties I earned a scholarship at the Woodstock School of Art, upstate NY and studied two years with Vladimir Bachinsky, which opened me up to a whole new level of painting portraits. I learned the relationship of muscles and skeleton to the skins surface and how it moved and formed. I learned how to use color to manifest all that was beneath the skin. This education was accelerated years later through a workshop with the renowned portrait painter, Daniel Greene, who is as at least as gifted a teacher as he is a painter.
By the time I was in my late twenties, and I thought I would continue to develop my skills as a conventional portrait painter, perfecting my skills toward realism and accuracy, I took a nine day camping trip, with 12 other women, in the mountain peaks of Maine. Before leaving for the trip, I packed a small sketchpad and pencils intent on doing a sketch of each woman who participated in the hike. It was a ritual I’d committed to so I might remember the women I met and also a way to keep the experience of portraiture alive while I was away from my studio.
During the hike, we spent so much time preparing food, setting up camp, hiking and other necessary processes that there was no time for sketching the women. Toward the end of the trip, I felt a loss that I had not accomplished what I had set out to in creating portraits of the women, who I’d by now, grown close to. One day, toward the end of the trip, we each chose a spot in the woods where we would remain alone for several hours, and meet up thereafter. While I was alone in the woods, my eyes drank in everything surrounding me. Colors and smells made huge announcements on my senses. Dirt, water, leaves, rocks and moss were all alive and having conversations. Bugs and birds and others joined in. I felt like I could hear the whole universe breathing softly. Suddenly, images of the women I had met started to emerge from the rocks, leaves and bark lying around me. I picked up a soft, white-faced mushroom and carved, a bear, the totem animal of one of the women, into it. I colored it with berry juice. I found a dying piece of white birch bark, with dry, pale-blue and green moss covering one side, which reminded me of an older woman in our group. I created a portrait of each of the women, from that which surrounded me. I realized that portraiture, for me, was the most important part of my art. Painting was my predominant medium but the most important part of the equation was the portraiture, or seeing into the deepest recesses of people. I shared my experience and my portraits of the women when we all came back together and they were no less fascinated than they might have been had I painted them.
It was after this hike that I met a performance artist, Linda Montano, who was using herself as a means of expression in a similar way to how I used paints on a canvas. She didn’t perform in the traditional sense of dancing or singing, it was more akin to making a creation of oneself which brought it closer to painting than dancing. She was beginning a seven-year performance that melded color, sound and personae to express and experience the seven main energy centers in the human spine, known as chakras. Her piece was so alive with color it inspired me to ask if I could paint her portrait and as we discussed the idea, it was decided I would paint her portrait serially for the seven years of her performance. The first year’s paintings were all done in red because Linda was living in a red space and dressed in red all year. Red was the color that symbolized the first chakra. As the performance piece progressed into the last two years, the paintings fell away and the expression became more of a performance for me as well as Linda. In the second to last year, I was doing Linda’s portrait by cutting and styling her hair, and by the last year, I was living in her all-white house, the color symbolizing the crown chakra located at the top of the head. This performance with Linda, and the fact the paintings fell away at the end deepened my understanding that I began to have on my hiking trip, that portraiture was important to me beyond painting. Seeing was the vital component. Seeing was the cake and painting was the icing. I loved them together, but I would eat cake without icing before eating icing without cake. Seeing was what made my paintings art as opposed to nice pictures of people. It was, in a sense, seeing beyond seeing, seeing what is beneath and how it informs the surface. With Vladimir Bachinsky, my understanding of how the muscles and skeleton beneath the surface of a person’s skin informed their visage was enhanced. Working with Linda Montano, I grew a deeper understanding of how the soul manifests through a person.
Painting Linda Montano was a revelatory process. I was working with an accomplished artist who was her own medium and her own expression. I was learning performance art. I performed painting in that I was doing serial portraits and always in the process of painting Linda during at least five of the years we worked together. Yet, I was still painting and not using myself as the medium. I also had to learn to paint differently since the colors we used over the years interrupted the normal process one would use in painting a portrait, with the warm colors being in the foreground, and the cooler colors receding. Painting skin tone against a bright yellow or red background was a challenge to say the least.
During the years of painting Linda Montano, I lived in the Hudson Valley. My studio had huge windows facing the main street that enticed people walking by to look inside. After inviting them in a few times, and enjoying the process of sharing my paintings as well as the painting process with them, I hung out a sign of welcome. Whenever I painted, others could watch, see my paintings and talk with me about my work. With so many people visiting my studio, I did not want for exhibition space. I could paint and have people enjoy my work at the same time.
In my early thirties, I traveled out west and to Europe before settling back in NYC where I was born. I took time off of painting to build a small business and then reengaged my painting in a studio in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, surrounded by other artists. It was here that my painting took the greatest turn. By this point, in my late forties, all the work I had put into painting started to manifest in the paintings themselves. I felt unleashed somehow, given heightened skills, a second wind. It is my sincere belief that most artists don’t hit this peak until they have put in the time, both of honing their skills and of living. One must live, experience life, suffering, bliss, nature, other people, relationships, all of it. I believe my work as an artist is to allow life to come through me in all its beauty and horror and not be devastated by it. Life is tremendous, learning to allow it all through takes time. One has to build their stamina for allowing life to come through them and allowing life to take the shape it desires in art. I have learned I must be totally present at the same time that I have to step aside and allow the painting to be born. I imagine, giving birth to art is not so different than giving birth to life.
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Enter in this month’s Art Competition “October Vibe”
for a chance to WIN the COVER of AQM Issue “TWO”
coming in Dec. 2014
(All entries in all AQG art competitions from June – November 2014 will automatically entered to win the cover of AQM)
Each month someone will win One Year of representation with
Good choice….nice cool page, especially creative with the Rene Magritte subliminal but yet obvious input. Congrats well done