Finding Treasure in Bermuda
My commissions tend to be younger children or older adults, the bookends of life. This summer, I have had the opportunity to paint portraits done during the teen years or just after college. These moments are intense periods of growth and discovery.
Teenagers are open and excited about the adventures ahead. Unlike many adults, they have the time and the curiosity to explore who they are. If you can engage them in a conversation about what they are actually thinking, it can be riveting. As they take on the conversations of adulthood, they begin to openly examine beliefs or accepted ways of the adult world with the endless creativity of a child.
That is part of the reason I love painting them. It gives me a chance to capture that incredible time in their lives when they are full of optimism, curiosity, and intensity. I believe they reveal their true desires for a life yet uncreated. And for me as a portrait artist, they are sharing their essential self. Sometimes adult subjects will subject themselves to this vulnerability but a teenager enjoys being witnessed so intimately. It’s playful. Adults often feel exposed. I feel exposed.
A dear friend who lives in Bermuda invited me to paint her amazing teenagers. I just returned from the surreal blue island where I spent the weekend getting to know them and doing the preparatory work.
Bermuda is stunningly beautiful. The blue sea, the green lawns stretching out toward the harbor, the abundance of flowers, the waves crashing on rocks and the shimmering pink reflection on the surface of the bay.
The real discovery, however, was the teenagers. When I asked the thirteen-year-old boy which famous paintings that he knew or he liked, initially he looked startled. I could see that he was wondering, “is this a test?”
He wanted to succeed at being a portrait subject, but it was all new ground. So then I asked him which paintings in his house he liked. He began to smile with confidence and explain in detail why he liked two particular paintings.
He liked one of a ship drifting through smoke. He said he imagined there might have been a great battle and the other ship was just beyond the painters’ perspective. Or maybe the boat was shrouded in mist. The composition beckoned his imagination. He also liked another more colorful boat painting. Again he enjoyed the aliveness of the painting. There was space in the painting for him to interpret where the artist was going.
His sister was equally collaborative. She said she preferred James Wyeth to his father NC. She liked his subdued colors and his focus on the experience of the subjects. She said he painted people’s thoughts. His work was not a grand scene, but rather an intimate moment. She was as thoughtful as any of Mr Wyeths subjects. She enjoyed the strength of her mind and she responded to a powerfully thoughtful creator.
What impressed me the most is that both, though young, were confident enough to trust their own experience and old enough that their thoughts were developed and clear. They had the rawness of youth and intelligence to begin navigating their story.