This is a continuing series of interviews with the forty-eight artists whose work was selected for the Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition. The third OBPC exhibition opened on March 23, 2013, and will run through February 23, 2014. Edgar Jerins, who participated in our interviews last autumn, created the work David and Anita Visiting Daina for the 2013 competition.
Q: Where are you from, where do you live now?
A: I was born in Lincoln, Nebraska and grew up in Omaha, Nebraska. I now reside in Manhattan with my wife, Alana, and my two daughters Ruby and Sterling.
Q: What medium(s) do you work with?
A: For years, I worked primarily with oil and pastel, and now the balance has shifted to primarily charcoal on paper.
Q: Tell us about your technique/creative process.
A: I begin with a story or situation that someone I know is going through/facing.
Then, having secured my subject participation, I begin the process of photographing them in their environment. This involves many shoots and often results in me not moving forward on that image. When I do find a compelling image, I photograph detailed shots of the entire setting. Lighting is carefully controlled.
I unroll a very large sheet of paper and begin blocking out my composition using vine charcoal. When I have it roughed out, I blow the vine charcoal out of the paper with compressed air and switch to charcoal pencils. I rely heavily on erasure and move things around until the drawing is complete. Although using photography is necessary for the level of detail in my work, I use as much lifework as possible.
Q: What is your background (education, career, etc.) and how does it contribute to your art?
A: I attended the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts right after high school. PAFA has a skill-based program that relies primarily on working from life from the figure. This training enabled me to use photography correctly as a tool for my work. Upon graduation in 1980, I lived solely on the sale of my work until recently. Four years ago, I began teaching part time.
Q: How did you learn about the Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition?
A: Through the New York Foundation of the Arts.
Q: Tell us about the piece you submitted to the competition.
A: David and Anita Visiting Daina is set on a farm porch in Lindsborg, Kansas. It depicts my first cousins and their inner conflicts. Daina and her husband Doyle are raising Anita’s three children. Anita is trying to woo them back. Anita and David, despite early talent and promise, have become victims of depression and substance abuse.
The emotional loyalties and relationships change daily, if not hourly, with potential breakdowns and explosions held at bay by Daina and Doyle providing practicalities.
Q: Tell us about your larger body of work.
A: My large, narrative drawings cover thematically dark subject matter. The subjects are facing various crises including addiction, divorce, alienation and violence. Recently I have been exploring mental illness in my work.
Q: What are you currently working on?
A: My latest drawing is of my brother Tom. He is a chronic alcoholic and presently is homeless. To capture the danger of his situation, he is standing in our mom’s front yard in the snow.
Q: How has your work changed over time?
A: Up until 2001, my work was primarily oil with a more classical or timeless approach. In 2001 I began this series of drawings where the goal is to portray the world as it is now. My narratives also became contemporary.
Q: Tell us about a seminal experience you’ve had has an artist.
A: When I was fourteen, I began formal study with Dimitar Khruschev and drew my first nude from life. This began a lifelong pursuit of the human figure.
Q: Who is your favorite artist?
A: This changes over time. When I was young, it was Botticelli, Goya, and Dali. In art school, I looked at everyone with an open mind. Later, Ingres and 19th century realism became significant to me. Recently, my focus has been on Durer and the artists of the Weimar Republic: Dix, Gross, Shad, etc.
Q: What is your favorite artwork?
A: Sir John Everett Millais painting “Ophelia”
Q: What inspires you?
A: People rising above adversity.