Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Collaborative Portrait of Nathan McFadden by Salvador Dalí, Andrew Daniel and Nathan McFadden

"Collaborative portrait of Nathan McFadden" by Salvador Dalí, Andrew Daniel and Nathan McFadden

Oil on canvas 16" x 20"

For the last month I have been on sabbatical from painting. I had been really pushing myself to learn and grow for a year, trying to paint larger, trying to make images more detailed, textural, immediate, colorful, poetic... Are you feeling overwhelmed yet? 

So this past year has been an intensive learning process, full of growth, but ultimately even more full of despair. The demands that I had for each painting were so high, and each time I thought a painting was going to be done with only one more session, I would find I had learned something new about what was possible, and it was going to take a few more sessions to resolve the new layer of issues. 

This would have been well, good and normal except that I was having this same set of issues loom over several pieces simultaneously. Nothing ever good enough to be finished. Stacks of 85% done paintings.

I was feeling ready to walk away from it, when I got a call from an old high school friend Nathan McFadden. Nathan has a sense of humor that is bizarre, eclectic, and at times perverse. So, of course we get along great. And when he asked me to do a portrait comission, using an odd selfie that had been run through a computer algorithm that interprets the photo as if it were painted in the style of whatever painting you up load, I thought what could go wrong?

His source photo looked good already, I just needed to copy it... Besides it will give me a chance to loosen up! My detail oriented perfectionism was driving me crazy anyway.

Well, if there is anything I have learned over the years, I had definitely learned that portraits and "looseness" do not often work together. When I looked at the  computer generated Salvador Dalí painting, I saw the way it had warped his face, making one eye lower then the other, along with Nathan's "Do it however you want!" attitude. I thought, this should be no problem to pull off.

But then came the helpful comments from the family as they walk by. Oh, his eyes need to be closer, his forehead is too short, his nose needs to be longer, and then my favorite was Nathan's when I showed him a process photo. "You need to make me fatter!" Well once you have had to put your painting through several major plastic surgeries and reverse lyposuction, the idea of having it look loose and unscripted falls away. All that you are left with is caking on the paint as if you wielded a spatula full of frosting.  

On top of this, I started seeing the painting as a challenge, man vs. machine. A trained professional painter aught to be able to out paint a computer that just glanced at a photo of a painting. Not to mention, I couldn't stomach copying the computers odd descisions, that no person brought up with a reverence for the tradition of painting would make.

My loose painting, kind of turned into a mortal fight to prove that my idealistic career choices made when I was a teenager, had not been in vain.

So, here was the really wierd thing that happened, even tho I was painting in a completely different style, one where I alternately built up the painting and then destroyed my work, only to build it up again. The process was no quicker then my highly detailed work. My eye for nuances of paintings at this point is so developed that I've kinda ruined the chances of being satisfied with my work, wether loose or tight, abstract or from life. 

Well, there was nothing left to do but run off and join the circus... A story which I will have to save for next week.


  1. Thank you for this very familiar tale of artistic process !

  2. This is very interesting, Thanks for posting it all