In 2017, I went down to New York to one of my favorite places to be - The Art Students’ League of NY. I had enrolled in another class with my favorite teacher, Max Ginsburg. It was to be a week long class with an ambitious agenda. It was about composing a painting from different references. We were to paint models from life, in the studio, but place them in a space based on a photo that we would take somewhere else. I chose to take my photo in a subway car on the F train.
First, the models sat down, and I took this photo of them. There was trouble right from the start. Two of the models, Richard and Pauli, were great, but Teresa, the one on the far end was not happy. I don’t think she liked the job of professional model and she definitely didn’t like the chair she was sitting in.
But I went ahead and painted these two sketches of them on small canvases. The first, is the three of them, just sitting in a row and in the second, I have placed them on the seat of an imaginary subway car. I had not yet gone into the subway to take the photo. I was just thinking about what I wanted it to look like.
MAN IN A SUBWAY CAR
So, I took a lot of pictures in subway cars and decided to use this one. I mean, who could resist this guy in his hard hat? But, I did resist painting him for this project. For now, I just wanted to use the car itself as a photo reference. (The guy in the hard hat eventually did make his way into a different painting.)
With my photo of the subway car and the live models in front of me, I started in to paint on my larger (24”x20”) canvas. This was the next day. Teresa, who had been so unhappy about her chair had brought in a couple of pillows to sit on. You will notice in this early version of the painting that she is suddenly sitting up much higher than she had been the day before. But she did less complaining, so I and the rest of the class (most of whom had placed these figures on a park bench) painted on.
I was not at all happy with Teresa’s new position. I sought the opinion of Max, the instructor. He didn’t seem to think that there was any problem, but I could not get over the feeling that she just didn’t look as if she were sitting on the same surface as the other two people. She wasn’t, because of the pillows.
The class went on for the rest of the week and I brought the painting closer to completion. There were a lot of annoying straight lines to deal with. And, I still wasn’t happy with Teresa’s position. I asked for opinions from a lot of other people. Most thought she was ok - just extra tall or something - who would notice? But, sometimes, you just have to ask yourself, “Is it easier to live with a problem or is it easier to fix it?” For me it was easier to fix it.
work still in progress
So here, in this photo, the workshop over, I am back at home. You may notice that the painting is no longer on the Art Students’ League easel, but is on my easel in my studio. And Teresa has been moved down. I just had to do it, so I did. I changed some other things about the subway car and I fussed around over the details. Some people are able to make a painting very quickly, and sometimes I do too. But this time, I kept on changing and rearranging for weeks. Differences in darkness in the painting are do to bad photography. This painting has been in a couple of shows. It is now at River Arts Gallery in Morrisville, VT. It was a useful exercise in composition and dealing with problems.
To see the final edition, scroll back to the top of this post.