Artwork / 2003 / Lee Pelton

portrait of a black man
Gwenn Seemel
Lee Pelton
acrylic on canvas
38 x 30 inches

For the first half of 2003, I was finishing up my undergraduate studies at Willamette University. Even as I was completing requirements and madly working on my theses, my thoughts turned to life after college. I knew I wanted to be an artist though I wasn’t too sure what all being an artist entailed.

Somehow I got it into my head that portraits of recognizable faces, like Lee’s, would be an important addition to my portfolio. I figured that, if the viewer knew the subject, they would be more interested in the portrait. Willamette’s President was as famous as it got for me at the time, so I contacted the President’s office and asked for twenty minutes of Lee’s time. I was already working then as I do now, from photos that I take during the course of a conversation with the subject, so a brief interview was all I required. Still, it seemed to a shy art student like such an outrageous request. Sure, I was offering him a Gwenn Seemel original in exchange for some conversation, but I was not sure he would see the value of it. To my delight, he did.

President Pelton became the first of what is now many well known subjects whose portraits I have painted in order to familiarize a larger audience with my work. Lee said “yes” to me and, with his simple gesture, he helped me to understand that the world is there for the asking—not for the taking, but for the asking. I only need the courage to ask.

This experience led me to ask television news personalities and public officials as well as people like Jeffrey Gitomer to sit for me.