Blog / 2018 / Repeat Face-lenders Program

December 6, 2018

My “repeat face-lenders program” is like a repeat offenders program but for people who lend their faces to my art repeatedly—people I paint again and again.

Gwenn Seemel’s portraits of her grandfather
Gwenn Seemel’s portraits of Papy painted in 2000 and 2001

The first person who joined the program was my grandfather, a man who was famous in his small community in Brittany, France.

My grandparents owned an odds-and-ends store on the village square. Among other things, they sold pens that my Papy insisted never made mistakes and candy which he claimed to have imported personally from Chicago. (He pronounced it “CHEE-ka-go” with a funny emphasis on the first syllable and a hard “ch” sound that doesn’t exist in his native French because that was the “prononciation américaine.”)

It was my grandfather’s face and his village fame that got me interested in portraiture. I decided I wanted to paint people like him. Forget the big name celebrities: the people who deserve to be painted are those who have a mythical status in our everyday lives.

Gwenn Seemel’s portraits of her friend
Gwenn Seemel’s portraits of Claire painted between 2003 and 2014

It’s not easy to ask someone to sit for a portrait—even when you work from photos like I do. It’s not easy the first time I ask, and it’s not easy the nth time. But I ask anyway. I ask because I need to paint the people in my life, and sometimes I need to repaint them too.

Gwenn Seemel’s portraits of her friend
Gwenn Seemel’s portraits of Gabe painted between 2006 and 2015

The subject may not love all the portraits I paint of them, and I’ve learned to accept that. Though my goal with my portraits is usually to show people what is beautiful about them, I know that my idea of beauty is not everyone’s idea.

Gwenn Seemel’s portraits of her brother
Gwenn Seemel’s portraits of Kristan painted between 2004 and 2015

And sometimes I don’t even meet my own beauty goals. Sometimes I don’t love all the portraits I paint of someone. In fact, sometimes that’s why I paint people again and again. I’m trying to get it right!

Gwenn Seemel’s portraits of her dog
Gwenn Seemel’s portraits of Rouzic painted between 2003 and 2017

It’s been 18 years since I first started painting and repainting my family and friends. In that time, I’ve only portrayed a handful of well-known people—including this hero, this criminal, and this Hollywood actor who commissioned me early on in my career. But I’ve painted plenty of everyday legends, people who make my life meaningful and worthwhile.

I love that I get to do that.

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