These two newest portraits are of our dear friends Dale and Bill Fairbanks, who moved to Florida from Alaska in 2003. Dale, whose solo exhibition at the Anchorage Museum last November I profiled on this site (see that post) , was one of Alaska's boldest and best abstract painters, and she has continued to produce outstanding work in her studio in Pensacola, Florida, when she and Bill aren't engaged in preparation for hurricanes or repair in their aftermath. (You can see her work at her website, originally created by my son Eli, at www.dalefairbanks.com.)
Bill, a very successful financial adviser in Fairbanks, and my hunting partner for a number of years--we were at his moose camp on the Tanana River on Sept. 11, 2001--is now making extraordinary handmade, one-of-a-kind furniture pieces that are as sculptural as they are functional.
I have wanted to do portraits of them since before they left Alaska. When we visited with them at Thanksgiving, in Anchorage and La Conner, we agreed that I would give it a try, and I have had a wonderful time working on these for the last several weeks.
Like almost all the portraits I have done, these are large--about three times life size--and are handled in exactly the same way I do my birch "portraits" and other paintings. So while they look very realistic from a distance, up close they are very abstract, and at least as much about the colors and textures and marks as about what those marks are describing. It's a mystery to me how so much of the character of the people gets into the portraits, as I not only don't think about that or try to put it there, I wouldn't even know how to begin to do so. All I try to do is keep the handling loose and expressive, while focusing just as hard as I can on getting it "right," making it look as much like the person as I possibly can. It's just like painting birch trees, only much less forgiving, as making the trees a little wider or narrower, or moving the features around, doesn't detract from them, while portraits have to look "right," as well as being interesting as works of art. So I'm always shocked by how much of the individuals comes to inhabit their pictures. It's clearly a testimony to the fact that our character is somehow etched in our features themselves, and it amazes me how just paying very, very close attention to those features brings them to life in the portraits.