Live Event Paintings

I paint oil paintings, live, at wedding receptions and events, anywhere in the world. Click my profile to find my email, or call (206) 382-7413.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Macias-Lawson Wedding, Arctic Club Hotel, Seattle, November 26, 2011

The Arctic Club Hotel is one of the greatest pieces of architecture in Seattle. Built in 1917, it is distinguished by two-dozen terra cotta walrus heads lining the Cherry Street and Third Avenue facades. After the Nisqually earthquake ten years ago, when the building was languishing as city offices, some of these walruses had their tusks held on with duct tape. But in recent years the building has been acquired and beautifully restored to its historic splendor by a company of Mr. William Lawson, whose son was married there on Saturday.

The building is mixture of architectural styles, but the Dome Room evokes Paris in the Belle Époque. I have painted in the room before, and I hope to again— many times. In fact, I think it would be my dream art studio. So it was really a privilege to paint the room for its new owners.

This painting was also an opportunity for me to do something I’ve never done before: a vertical wedding painting. The size and format were actually dictated by the wall on which the painting will eventually hang, but it works compositionally because of the Dome Room’s magnificent stained glass ceiling, which occupies the top half of the painting.

At most weddings and events, I paint on a French easel, which is a portable travel set designed in the days of the Impressionists to carry enough paints in the box for a plein aire outing. I use this for paintings up to 30 inches high, though it gets a little rickety with torque on paintings as wide as 40 inches. For the Macias-Lawson wedding, the canvas was 48 wide and 60 high— the second largest I’ve done for an event, and by far the tallest. I rented a van to move a big easel from the studio, even though the venue was just six blocks away! (Its also unadvisable to walk through the neighborhood carrying a big wet oil painting in the rain, after midnight.) The easel was designed for paintings up to 59 inches high, and needed a minor modification for this job. But it has a great sliding carriage, which allowed me to set the painting low at first, when I painted that grand ceiling before the wedding, and simply slide the whole thing up the ratcheted vertical support to paint the lower half during the reception. I used my French easel on the side for a tableau, to hold my paint and brushes.

It really would take a week to faithfully and realistically render the architectural details of this exquisite room. But as with paintings I’ve done at The Ruins, where an excellent muralist labored for three years to adorn the place, my scribblings are quick impressions, meant to evoke that single evening in its magic moment. By constricting my painting time to the time of the event (with some allowance to paint the setting in just the hours before), I control, harness, and channel the energy of expedience. If I were to take the painting back to the studio to touch it up, dither over it, and— as one of my illustration teachers called it — noodle it to death, that energy would leak out of the painting. Some people, upon hearing (but not seeing) what I do, ask me if I’m going to take a photo of the wedding, and do the whole painting back at the studio. I could, of course, and I could make the painting look just like the photo. But you can get that from any of several corporate studios that email your photos to China, where factory artists copy them faithfully for the cost of a good craft store frame.

There are no photos from any wedding that depict what I paint; I do not capture a sliver of time in a click of a shutter, but the whole elapse of the evening over several hours. Mini-portrait-caricatures depict the key figures. The bride and groom, in this case, were painted in their entirety during their First Dance. I have to confess here that I take extensive liberties with perspective, even with my point of view. I have compressed nearly 180 degrees of view into this vertical rectangle. When a camera does this, we call it a fish-eye lens, and close objects become enormous and far details disappear. Its great for documenting architecture, but people, not so much. I paint as if I were on a ladder, and the floor angled like a raked stage. This allows me to give elements within the room relatively equal importance as events, rather than distorting closer things.

Artistry lies as much in the process and interpretation of what the artist sees, as in the skill with which it is rendered.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

A Zinzanni Evening—Painting at the Circus

In the Spiegeltent at Teatro Zinzanni for the third time, on Sunday the sixth of November, I did a painting for their annual gala auction to benefit the Zinzanni Institute for the Circus Arts. The Institute teaches children to juggle, clown, and tumble their way towards a chance to run away with the circus—or at least to develop some killer skills. The gala funds scholarships for kids who can’t afford the program. An amazing nine-year old graduate appears in my painting, center stage, juggling five balls, next to auctioneer Kevin Joyce.

It just another normal weekend for me to put on a bowtie and black apron and perform for a crowd, with my brushes and palette and mahl stick and a rapidly transforming canvas. Doing it under the big top with these performers lets me pretend I’m a tall, Danish version of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec at the Moulin Rouge. Their Spiegeltent dates from that era (so named because of the mirrors encircling the space), the dancing, singing waitresses wear corsets and fishnet stockings and feathers, paired with waiters in vests and caps. Décor of tassels and fringe and faded velvet are everywhere.

The air of Paris is especially strong at Zinzanni right now, since their current dinner show is Bonsoir Liliane!, a memoir about, and starring, Liliane Montevecchi— a grand dame of the stage, ballet, cinema, and theatre. I told her that her voice reminded me of a stretch version of Edith Piaf (she’s more than a foot taller than La Môme.)

With all the acrobats and contortionists and strays from the opera and ballet, this troupe has been called “the Kit Kat Club on Acid.” So why not throw in a barrel-voiced cross-dressing comedian/comedienne primped and powdered like a Venetian carnival queen? That’s him/her posing with the buyer of my painting and her daughter, center left. Kevin Kent is one of TZ’s original members.

Another regular at Zinzanni is Francine Reed, who came in from Atlanta for the gala and a concert the following night. As I mixed my colors and began to paint the background of the venue, while the crew tested lights and recording volumes, Ms. Reed spent a luxurious amount of time chatting with me. It was a pleasure getting to know the woman whose voice makes Lyle Lovett sound good. We talked about growing up singing in church, and she listened patiently while I sang to her a song I wrote for my wife, nodding and smiling approvingly. During the auction she sang God Bless the Child. She appears in my painting dressed in purple, with feathers, on the stage, middle right.

It feels great to donate a painting, and I do for several charity auctions each year. It feels even better when the event’s appreciation allows me to bring my wife and guests back for dinner and a show throughout the year!