Sunday, July 10, 2016

Facing Faces at Whistler House

This past week has been a such a challenge for many of us that it seemed like the least I could do was get out of the house.Perhaps I should have painted or knit or something.  But I didn't have the spirit.
But the Whistler House Museum of Art/Lowell Art Association had an opening reception for an exhibit of Famous Faces; portraits by Nancy Ellen Craig (1927-2016)

 When I arrived mid-way through the reception hours, the curator was still expounding about his experiences with the artist and her experiences with husbands, children and portrait subjects. I was frustrated at first, because I just wanted to see the paintings.  But perhaps having to wait, standing, made them more amazing when I finally got to stand in front of each one. (The customary spread of cheese, crackers, crudités and sweets didn't hurt.)


She painted large - in the old style of formal portraits.  Most were 3 x 4 feet or larger like the portrait of Frank Lloyd Wright.  (Her estate and collectors seem careful about what paintings are available on line... and photographs were not allowed, so my illustrative choices were limited.  There was a  Norman Mailer portrait that was 6 FEET on a side. (You CAN find that one on line!) There were circular canvases about 4 feet in diameter. The paintings were generally brushy, loose, and raw -- with the exception of some of the women's faces; which were as soft and carefully shaded as any Flemish portrait.  No wonder people wanted their portraits painted by her! All captured some ineffable spirit of the sitter.  By virtue of having grown up in a posh area of New York City, she painted royalty, screen stars, other artists and local friends.

Princess Marie Louis of Prussia

One of many fascinating self-portraits.
She painted many portraits of her third husband, Preston Carter,  who must have liked to model for her.  They were known to be reclusive, but it looks like they had a good time on their own.  Carter died in 2007, and Craig's house suffered an electrical fire in 2008.  Undaunted, Craig painted even bigger and more complicated paintings based on classical mythology and religious symbols.  She also painted a powerful  allegory Abu Graib: The Disasters of War.
I'll have to take comfort  that my pots of brushes and knives, and my  palette have a passing resemblance to hers.  I'll need another life and lifetime for my figurative paintings and portraits to come close.


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