Artists by Artists

It's hard to believe, but Currents has begun to come down. We've got plenty of new shows lined up through the end of the year, however, beginning with our latest offering in Horgan and Graphics galleries, Artists by Artists. Drawn from the RMAC's marvelous permanent collection, this in-house show features portraits of artists done by other artists.

Portraiture is a versatile, enduring subject within the scope of art and its history. Portraits survive from Rome, Egypt, and other ancient civilizations, and several of the most beloved works of art today, from the Mona Lisa to Andy Warhol’s silkscreens of Marilyn Monroe, are portraits. In capturing a person’s physical likeness, artists can evoke the sitter’s taste, personality, and mood, all while expressing their own creative personalities, but what happens when artists create portraits of other artists? How do they capture the distinct creative persona of the sitter while asserting their own stylistic preferences? That's the question that this show explores.

Pulled from the Museum’s vaults, this show highlights portraits of artists by other artists. In exploring each of these different works, viewers are invited to consider how artists within the RMAC collection have captured the likenesses of their peers while simultaneously conveying their own creative style and practice. On many of the exhibit labels, thumbnails of works by the artists represented in these portraits are shown to provide examples of their own creative work.

Let's look at some examples:

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DeAnn Melton, Elmer "Skinney' Schooley, 1994, oil on canvas. Collection of the Roswell Museum and Art Center

Tucson artist DeAnn Melton has painted numerous portraits of artists, writers, and other creatives over the course of her career. Melton describes painting Elmer Schooley’s portrait in the following passage, discussing both the painting itself and Schooley’s own artistic discipline:

I drove to Roswell, New Mexico after a flight from Tucson to Santa Fe. We worked all day and into the evening.  Skinny is a very methodical and persistent painter. He spends all his days in front of his canvas, slowly building the image until the richness of the surface and the image blend together. The air of continuity of thought and practice engulfed his environment, swirling around anyone who entered his studio.

Nathan Oliveira, Georgia O'Keeffe, 1963, black-and-white lithograph on paper. Collection of the Roswell Museum and Art Center.

Nathan Oliveira studied art at the California College of Arts and Crafts, now known as the California College of Arts, and exhibited at such venues as the Museum of Modern Art by 1959. A painter and a printmaker, Oliveira became a tenured instructor at Stanford University in 1964, remaining there until his retirement in 1995. 

In this portrait of Georgia O’Keeffe, Oliveira blurs the distinction between representation and abstraction be distilling his subjects to their simplest forms, a quality that O’Keeffe explored throughout her own career. Rather than depict O’Keeffe’s face directly, Oliveira has placed a simplified profile of the artist’s head against a background reminiscent of the landscapes she painted in New Mexico, underscoring her profound connection with her southwestern environs.

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Richard Shaffer, Ted, 1978, pencil on heavy Hammermill paper. Collection of the Roswell Museum and Art Center.
Painter Richard Shaffer became close friends with Roswell photographer Ted Kuykendall (1953-2009) in 1975, when Shaffer was awarded a grant with the Roswell Artist-in-Residency Program. Kuykendall would later go on to receive a RAiR grant in the 1980s. Shaffer describes his friendship with Kuykendall in the following quote:
We both hunted and invented images that ‘meant something’ to us, taking them back to the studios to develop together in the first darkroom we made in the house, pinning them up in the painting studio. We talked long and hard about this ‘art’ activity, whether it felt authentic, true, or ‘real’ to us---or whether it was just pure, fantastic luck that we both got to spend time there in Roswell, and together, to find out what it might mean to do art!
As someone who has never excelled at portraiture, I have the folks in our collection who have been able to capture the creative personas of their friends and peers. After all, as I learned in a seminar I took years ago in graduate school, portraiture is rarely just about a face, but the personality and the broader society behind it. 

Artists by Artists will be up until November, so be sure to stop in and check it out if you're in the area.