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Timothy Cummings

Self portrait, reclining

Timothy Cummings, "Self portrait, reclining", 2009, acrylic on panel, 19" x 12“.

Feb 2, 2021 at 11:19

Hello Timothy,

My research trajectory reveals to me that photography as a discipline is a fairly direct way of portraying something. A photographer is always concerned with the moment that they capture, and is closely linked to the reality of that moment. Painting, however, seems to me to be a discipline that deals fundamentally differently with the genre of portraiture. It is therefore nice that I will learn more about painting in the coming period. Even though the painter works figuratively, there is a difference between figuration-with-paint and figurative painting as an art form, right?

For me personally, the art of portraiture lies in its ability to make tangible what is happening within the figure in the portrait, or what the relationship is between the one portrayed and the portrait artist, for the viewer. That tactile craftsmanship exists and has been applied so that the inner world of the person(s) folds outwards.

When I see your work, a certain secret speaks in the portrait. Throughout your alienating play of body proportions and positioning, the eyes still speak as if they are mirrors of the soul. A lot of humanity speaks through the eyes that you let speak to me as a viewer. I would like to ask you a question about this: when do you see the soul of the person portrayed in a portrait image?

Mar 12, 2021 at 12:22

Such a tricky question and such a very important part of painting portraits. But I’m not sure I have an answer.

Acrylic paint can be such a flat and difficult medium. Only through adding all those tedious layers upon layers of colors can you start to mold and map out a form. This is tricky enough, but to try and breathe life and soul into an inanimate painting takes a bit of trust in magic I think. Beyond traditional painting techniques, I feel there must be some alchemy at play and spontaneity to allow the soul to appear on its own. This is a difficult task of adding and subtracting over and over until very slowly a life starts to sparkle through the shadows. Then hopefully you can start to get inside the painting; looking out from inside the painting, rather than just merely staring frustrated from the outside.

Most of my favorite paintings have been portraits that I can fall into. Eyes are always the first thing I’m drawn to in a painting. So I’m always studying and trying to dissect what it is that brings a painting to life.

As a kid, it was always the eyes first when drawing a face. This was always the rule, eyes first and everything else falls into place. Maybe my other childhood obsession with classic films and the leading ladies encouraged my study of the face and soulful eyes? I spent my childhood pouring over huge photo books with dramatic images of alluring silver screen vamps. I worked diligently at copying the dramatic soulful eyes and dark lashes of every film goddess. This is all I would draw for years. Then a little later I found a new obsession in the miraculous drama of Russian icon paintings and the dramatic portraits of Saints and their weeping upturned eyes. I studied and started copying these paintings until I found my way to more contemporary art. The kitsch and creepy eyes of the Keane paintings were great but I remember being taken with the eyes in Francesco Clemente paintings. He seemed a real master of conjuring the soul with paint and he was a revelation to me as a young painter.

Later I would discover many others, Lucian Freud painted amazingly soulful eyes. I also became obsessed with Hans Memling and his incredibly lifelike portraits. It’s magic to me that artists can bring life into paintings. I guess it’s the beauty and mystery these images conjure that keeps me forever intrigued and working towards creating portraits with soulful eyes.

Thank You, Karel

Yours Truly



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