Saturday, May 14, 2011

Let's Hear It For The Boy...

"Nick", oil on canvas, 34" x 64", Lois Primeau, artist, copyright 2011
I've been "sitting" on this news a while.  I didn't want to "jinx" it, you know what I mean? I know... silly, but I always hate uttering the words before an event happens.  As if some little gremlin of back luck is going to sprinkle poo-poo dust on my good fortune and make it disappear! 

A while back, Alyson B. Stanford, Art Biz Coach and phenomenal "cheerleader" for artists, commented on my post "Amongst The Heroes" and asked about the back story on "Nick".  I answered her privately for a couple reasons, one being, at that time, the whisper of a sale had been expressed and I still wasn't comfortable with the idea of the bad luck gremlin possibly overhearing what was afoot.  So, before I continue with the good news, I'd like to tell the story behind the creation of "Nick".

When the Scarab Club announced their Call for Entries for their exhibit: Working Class Heroes: A Tribute, I knew what I wanted to do - I wanted to do a portrait of my son-in-law, Nick Scarmeas.  Nick is an electrician - a union electrician.  As a matter of fact, he is his employer's union steward. He is a very strong supporter of the unions and comes by this staunch support through his love and admiration for his maternal grandfather, who was also a union man.  The Call for Entries had gone out before the turmoil started in Wisconsin.

I'd been trying to get Nick to come over and pose for me for a couple of weeks.  I knew I'd be working from photographs because there was no way I'd get him to stand still and pose!  As the weeks passed, I was starting to get nervous because the deadline for the CFE was looming.  (I can't remember the exact date, but I didn't get Nick over to the studio until Feb 22 and I had the portrait finished by March 10 because it was executed in oil, it had to have time to dry, just in case it got accepted into the exhibit.  The exhibit opened on March 29.)

In the meantime, Wisconsin was "happening" and the unions were "under attack".  The day Nick showed up, he came directly from work and on his hard hat were the words "GOV WALKER = RAT".  He apologized to me and said, "all of us wrote that on our hard hats today with Sharpies... You don't have to paint it."  I said, "Are you kidding?!  It's perfect!" (I even traced his writing directly from an enlargement of the words so it would be in his writing, in the painting.) As I took the photos of Nick, I still wasn't sure what exactly I was going to do.  I took over 30 photos, in various poses, I knew the expression I was looking for and I knew I'd eventually get it.  He did a variety of poses for me and as he got more comfortable, it started to crystallize in my brain.  I wanted a man, an honest man without bravado or machismo.  No frills, no pomp... I wanted to capture that in his stance.  To show a man who knew his job and was proud of the work he does - and yet knows that when he goes home at night he still has to "take the trash out". I wanted to see a man who was confident in himself, sure and steadfast in his beliefs, one who believed in the brotherhood of the unions and believed the union stood behind him.  This is the true description of my son-in-law.  I knew I had to portray that on canvas.

And that's exactly what I did. When I finished "Nick" I knew I'd accomplished what I'd set out to do and I hoped that others would see that, as well.  What I wasn't expecting was the reaction and emotion that "Nick" evokes.  I had no idea whether it would be juried into the show since I have very little experience with showing my work.  So, I waited on "pins and needles" to see what would happen.

First, "Nick" was accepted and I was told by the gallery director, Treena Ericson, that the juror, Jerome Ferretti, was really moved by it.  Second, Treena asked if they could use it for their postcard for the show!  Third, I got another call, from Treena, telling me I'd won first prize!!  All this was wonderful news to me, considering I hadn't entered anything, in any juried show in about six or seven years because I haven't been operating as a "fine artist".  The night of the opening, I was told by Treena that she was having people come up to her, some with tears in their eyes and telling her how much "Nick" moved them.  As the night progressed, I had people come up to me and tell me the same.  I had one older gentleman shake my hand and hold it in his and tell me, with tears in his eyes what that portrait meant to him.  It was really quite humbling for me to have touched these people so deeply with "Nick".  (Unfortunately, Nick was unable to attend the opening because he was working.  Although he did attend the following week's blues and poetry reading and was "recognized " and applauded by the attendees and emcee.)

Shortly after the exhibit's opening, I got an email from Treena, telling me that the former president of the IBEW (International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers) had been in to see the exhibit and was deeply moved by "Nick" and was interested in having the union buy it.  The woman wanted to talk to me, so I gave her a call.  We had a very good conversation.  I told her the back story and she told me how she wanted the painting to travel to the upcoming International Conference in Vancouver and to six district meetings. We discussed how "Nick" is really a public piece, not one to be unseen in someone's home, but shared by the public because it has such emotional power and touches people so deeply. She told me how much it touched her and I told her it was my honor to have been able to paint this tribute.  She ended by saying she'd have to hang up now or she'd start crying...

I have since been down to the Scarab Club and Treena has told me how she will walk into the gallery and find people just standing silently in front of "Nick", looking at the painting with their hands folded...

I had no idea "Nick" would be so powerful, but "he" is a piece that is a statement of the times.


"Nick", award and red dot!
Oh! What's my news, you ask?  "Nick" has been sold!  Through the efforts of the former president, Elaine Crawford, of Local 58, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, "Nick" will be where "he" belongs - with Local 58.  "His" first stop is in Indianapolis, a week from Tuesday.



I will miss "Nick"... I painted him so quickly that I barely had time to get to "know him"If you are an artist, I think you'll understand what I mean. I visited "Nick" in the quiet of the Scarab Club's gallery Thursday evening, as I took a break from the life drawing session downstairs.  To see "him" hanging there evokes a peace within me, not as a sense of pride, but a "knowing" that "Nick"gives others comfort and pride in themselves somehow.  I didn't paint "Nick" for me.  I painted it for them.

4 comments:

Liz Crain said...

Oh Lois, I got all teary-eyed reading the whole story about this painting. It is so pure of an experience for you and I am positive that guided your hand and your artistry in such a way that it comes through laser-like and true to everyone else.
If the work is this wonderful when small and online, I can only imagine how powerful it must be in person.
Start to finish a great and heart-full expression: personal and universal at the same time.
Deepest congratulations and all my admiration!
Liz

Adrian Vaughan-Scott said...

Didn't doubt it for a second. I found that bad-luck gremlin and had a "conversation" with him. You're good to go. Congratulations, (Aunt) Lois. Amazing work from an amazing artist that is receiving the proper recognition.

Alyson B. Stanfield said...

Congratulations, Lois. Not just on the sale, but on the emotion you have evoked in so many people. I haven't seen Nick in person, but I'm tearing up just reading this post. What an accomplishment for you!

lois said...

Thank you all for your wonderful comments!

Liz- It really was surprising how quickly I completed "Nick". There are certain pieces of artwork that I've done over the years that simply "paint themselves", I just hold the brush. "Nick" was one of them.

Adrian- my Summer Son, thanks for "havin' my back" ;)

Alyson- Your words and support to ALL of us artists is so greatly appreciated and I wish you could see "Nick" in person, as well.