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Saturday, June 13, 2015

Painted Eyes

How I paint eyes, by no means the only way or the best way.
Portrait artists love painting eyes. Someone once termed them the "windows of the soul." It could be argued that eyes constitute the most expressive part of the face, though a similar argument could be made for the mouth. Despite the fact that there are two of them in most portraits, and they are almost never identical. Surprisingly, most artists find that eyes are not all that difficult to master, as compared to painting noses, for instance. Personally, I've never had any difficulty painting them provided the initial drawing from my photo is accurate, detailed, and carefully rendered first. In fact, once I start on the face itself (I save it for last in every case), the eyes are the first things I paint (above). I like to have the setter "watching" me, peering through the canvas as it were, while I apply flesh-colored "make-up" in and around them, eventually extending it to cover the entire face. I paint the mouth too, before the flesh tones.

Recognize these eyes? If not you likely will
come to sometime within the next few years.
But this is not a "how to" discourse on painting eyes. I don't claim that kind of expertise. What I find most enlightening are the eyes which master artists down through the centuries have left us as a guide. Many of the ones you see here are so distinctive as to be readily identifiable by anyone with any kind of background in art history. Some, though, are distinctive because of the setter, rather than the artist. The eyes at left were painted by Simmie Knox. They hang on a wall in the White House. Hint, the artist and his subject may one day get together again for a second White House portrait. (The full portraits are shown and identified at the bottom.)

The eyebrows have it.
He painted hundreds of eyes.
See if you can name the artists for the eyes above. The ones on the left belong to a woman. The ones on the right may have guided this artist in rendering more eyes than any other painter in history. Hint: They both are self-portraits. Though not equally famous, and born several centuries apart, they both lived troubled lives, their eyes reflecting the physical and personal pain they endured in pursuing their art.

A Russian expressionist. 
A German expressionless.
Very often artists' eyes have been most expressive as they've rendered their own eyes. Above are two more sets of eyes, both from self-portraits, though the artist's style and appearance may not be as recognizable. See if you can guess them without looking them up at the bottom. Although we tend to read far more character and feeling from eyes rendered in realistic mode (above, right), actually style has very little bearing in capturing such traits. In fact, the expressionist self-portrait (above, left) delivers a far more powerful emotional impact on the viewer than those at right.

In the Car--the eyes say more than the painting's title
It's not as common as one might think, but artist sometimes use eyes to indicate communication between figures in the same image as illustrated by the painting In the Car (above) by an artist whose style is so readily identifiable, his name doesn't need repeating here or at the bottom. We see skepticism, distrust, shrewdness, perhaps even hatred on the one hand, contrasting with wanton disregard or at least blissful ignorance in the case of the female figure.

The Gypsy Girl, 1628-30
Sometimes artist use eyes to indicate a similar sense of communication between figures in two different paintings as seen in the work of the Dutch artist (left) and a similar genre portrait (below, right). If you can name this artist without looking, you get an "A" for the course.

Jester with a Lute, 1623-24
Medusa, 1596-97
Perhaps no artist in history was better at capturing physical and emotional distress in the eyes of his subjects than a certain Italian Baroque artist whose painting, Medusa (below), painted in 1596 and 1597 (two similar versions) captures the personal horror and terror resulting from his decapitation, feelings which must also have been felt by his hairdresser.

Pain or sadness, this artist knew both.
So did his doctor, seen here.

Pain, as seen in the eyes, is often not physical buy emotional or psychological. Likewise there is a fine line between such pain and the sadness of seeing it and feeling inadequate to alleviate the suffering as seen in the eyes at right. The painting is by one of the most famous artists who ever lived...and died, taking his own life.
You may have these eyes in
your wallet. Know the artist?

No trouble naming these eyes
or their artist.

Some eyes are so familiar to us we can identify them instantly, if not always the artist. Both artists were from the state of Pennsylvania, though they lived on opposite ends. See if you can identify the artist painting the eyes below.

Not the artist's most famous portrait, but perhaps his best.
Certainly they're the best eyes he ever painted.
Now...the answers:

Hillary Clinton, Simmie Knox                                 Frieda Kahlo Self-portrait,                                  Rembrandt, Self-portrait
Kazimir Malevich Self-portrait                                Albrecht Durer Self-portrait                                 In the Car, Roy Lichtenstein
The Gypsy Girl, Frans Hals                                       Jester with Lute, Frans Hals                                     Medusa, Caravaggio
Dr. Gachet, Vincent van Gogh,                            Andrew Jackson, Thomas Sully,                              Orange Marilyn, Andy Warhol
The Lady with an Ermine,
ca. 1489-90, Leonardo


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