Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Are Figure Paintings Ballads?

I was for a moment speechless when a painting student asked "Who buys figurative work?" It was at the conclusion of a slide talk I recently gave about my work. I've been asked this numerous times but usually it's by my optometrist, realtor or someone who admits they're not interested in art.

I've been asked "Why would I want a painting on my wall of someone else's kid...  husband... brother... sister (fill in the blank)?"

I gave my usual response, carefully explaining that my paintings, as well as the work of other figurative artists, are not really portraits. The models are merely actors, sort of "everyman" in a given situation. My paintings involve human universal themes. I'm sharing concerns of human beings- life, death, love, trust, betrayal, humor and melancholy.

But this week as I listened to old Billy Joel music I realized that my paintings are like ballads. We relate to the people whose stories are being told not because we know Brenda and Eddie from "Scenes From an Italian Restaurant" but because we remember being like them.

"Well they got an apartment with deep pile carpets
And a couple of paintings from Sears
A big waterbed that they bought with the bread
They had saved for a couple of years
but they started to fight when the money got tight
And they just didn't count on the tears."

We relate to the Plain White T's "Hey there Delilah" because we've experienced a painful long distance relationship.

"A thousand miles seems pretty far
But they've got planes and trains and cars
I'd walk to you if I had no other way"

Simon and Garfunkel resonates with anyone who's ever been lonely and cold in a distant city in "The Boxer".

"Then I'm laying out my winter clothes
And wishing I was gone
Going home
Where the New York City winters aren't bleeding me"

How about The White Stripes, "The Cold Cold Night" singing about loving someone other people don't approve of?

"I hear you walkin' by my front door
I hear the creakin' of the kitchen floor
I don't care what other people say
I'm gonna love you anyway"

These are just a few examples of portrait-like ballads. The human figure is the most natural instrument for me to use for exploring the human condition.

I've had to learn to trust myself and paint what's important to me because chances are if I've felt it someone else has too. It's why my collectors say "Yes, I've felt exactly that way" when they look at a painting that resonates with them.

So from now on I think I'll call myself a balladeer!


  1. Terry, this is a good analogy, figure painting to ballad.

    To continue on the musical theme, I'd like to add that it is OK if not everyone is 'into' ballads. I myself have never bought a Country CD or Rap, but that doesn't mean that those are not valid musical art forms in of themselves. There are plenty of people in this world with plenty of preferences - enough to sustain a variety of expressions (including the ballad narrative found in figurative art such as your own).

    Happy Painting what resonates with you!

  2. Thanks Alia, You are so right! Just looking at the art work we've collected proves to me that meaningful work comes in every genre. It's as eclectic as our taste in music.



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