Artwork / Critics Critiqued

Fresh out of college, so very new to every last thing in the real world, I approached a few local art dealers and asked them if they would allow me to paint their portraits. In retrospect, possibly antagonizing people who would be able to help me might have been unwise, but, at the time, I thought my series of gallery types was the most excellent manner of introducing myself to the art scene. I had hopes that I would earn an honest and thoughtful critique from the art-savvy dealers for all my trouble. All I earned was more trouble still.

My professors had recommended that I go directly from the shelter of school to the shelter of a gallery. In fact, the only vocational training Willamette University ever offered me was that advice. As a liberal arts college and not an art school, they are stronger on academics than anything practical. By commencement, I knew nothing of commission contracts or press releases. The workload that the graduate school of real life dumped on me from day one was immense and also immensely satisfying. I learned how to make ends meet by working for myself and by doing what I love.

Barbara Black, Paul Missal, Bob Kochs, Charles Froelick, Gavin Shettler, Linda Yoshida, George Broderick, Jane Beebe, Mark Woolley, Elizabeth Leach, and Signe Lawrence were the gallery types who played along with my younger self. They allowed me to photograph them and interview them briefly. What follows is the original artist statement for the series.

The concept: I paint portraits to capture human beauty because I am in love with humanity. Humans disappoint me, so I paint portraits in order to focus on what is heroic and lovely in humanity.

The gesture: Far from a random assortment of Portland dwellers, these thirteen represent a cross-section of the city’s art scene. All have opinions about art, and, with the notable exceptions of the Bichon Frisé and myself, the subjects each have a space in which to show work as well. They are my critics.

The beginning: I am a portrait artist. How do I get my work noticed by my critics? My portfolio contains only faces of family and friends—faces my critics cannot know. Though a portrait may be skillfully rendered, the only portrait that can sincerely captivate any given person is a portrait of that person. I will paint their portraits.

The risk: Portraits rarely satisfy their subjects fully.

The game: Can my critics remain professionally distant enough from their portraits in order to evaluate my work fairly? Do I want them to? Do I even expect them to try?

The anti-gesture: I asked more than these 11 and dog for twenty minutes and the permission to snap a few photographs. Why was my request denied by some and why did others humor me? An aloof or playful attitude? Genuine disinterest or equally authentic benevolence? A definite idea of how their actions would be perceived? Curiosity?

The portrait: It is a record of the subject and also of the artist. It asks the viewer to look again at the subject and at themselves.

The hustle: I want to paint your portrait. I am available for commissions.

Gwenn Seemel at an opening for Critics Critiqued at Visage in Portland, Oregon
photo by Annie Seemel

Critics Critiqued showed in November and December 2003 at Visage in Portland, Oregon.