Blog / 2021 / Lacking Simplicity

February 6, 2021

work in progress painting double portrait
painting process

This is the second portrait of this mother-daughter pair that I’ve painted. It’s a special treat to be commissioned more than once to paint the same people, and I wish more people would do it.

portrait of a white mother and daughter, the girl sitting in her mother’s lap as they read together
Gwenn Seemel
Shelda and Ruby
2017
acrylic on canvas
24 x 24 inches

My first portrait is from a few years ago. It captures a quiet moment, and, though I love it so much, I’m still glad that I got a second chance.

commissioned painting of a smiling white woman with her grinning daughter
Gwenn Seemel
Shelda and Ruby
2020
acrylic on canvas
18 x 24 inches

Because one likeness can never perfectly and completely represent a person—let alone two people interacting! I’m delighted I got to paint this mom and her child in a more dynamic mood, and I know that if I’m invited to paint them again one day I’ll find more layers to portray. Humans are so deliciously complex.

fine art portrait of a mom by Gwenn Seemel
detail image of Shelda and Ruby

This truth has shaped my entire career ever since I received my first real critique from my high school art teacher, a person who antagonized me far more than they ever taught me but who also deserves a bit of credit. They observed that my art lacked simplicity. While I knew it was meant as a slight, this feedback stirred something deep in me.

fine art painting of a teenage girl by Gwenn Seemel
detail image of Shelda and Ruby

Life is unabashedly intricate, very much entangled with itself. While the desire to simplify in art or in other areas is healthy in some cases, it’s not automatically wholesome. In fact, I think that, in today’s black and white world of internet polarization, acknowledging complexity is more important than boiling things down to the most straightforward expression. And, if that means I have to paint a person more than once in order to really portray all of who they are, well that’s just a bonus!


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