Update, 7/30: Web Bryant has received word that Sentry to the 54th was selected as a finalist in the Portraits/Figures category of The Artist’s Magazine 31st Annual Art Competition. Congratulations!
Last Monday’s interview with Sally Davies was all about British Museum, a look at people experiencing a museum in a huge, indoor space. Sentry to the 54th, the other award winner, takes a closer look at one artwork, at the National Gallery of Art, and one man charged with guarding the gallery.
We asked the artist, Web Bryant, to tell us more about the painting:
What made you want to paint this?
Web Bryant: Augustus Saint-Gaudens’ bas-relief sculpture of the all-black 54th regiment has always been one of my favorite works of art. The National Gallery of Art has a copy of the bronze original set up in a beautiful room; I’ve sat many times on a small bench to sketch the figures. It was near closing on one of these times that a guard asked me to leave. It struck me that this very dignified man was the perfect person to watch over this wonderful work, a tribute to the glory and freedom these black soldiers showed in the Civil War. I took four quick photos of him standing in front of the sculpture. He got rid of the crazy old artist so he could clear the gallery. We were both very happy.
Who is pictured?
I don’t know at this point. I would like the guard to have a copy of the painting, but I don’t want to get him into any trouble if my taking his photo somehow broke any museum rules. So for now he is just the Sentry of the 54th.
What was your goal with Sentry to the 54th?
I try to do one candid portrait a year to enter into the International Portrait Competition, sponsored by the Portrait Society of America. I haven’t won yet! I had a good feeling about my short time with the guard; the natural stance he took was too good to pass up for doing a study. Once I finished the study, I knew I was close to a good painting.
You paint and draw in several different mediums. Why oil for this portrait?
I’ve spent the past three years focusing on how to paint in oil. Glazing with transparent oils is the ultimate way to show light on an object or a face. Oils also are perfect for translucent colors, such as flesh tones.
What do you think makes a successful portrait?
You have to have a good likeness. You also want your model to be part of the environment; nothing should look forced or stiff. You really succeed when you can create a curiosity between the viewer and the painting.
What are you working on now? What should we expect to see in your September solo exhibit?
I am finishing up the 18 oil paintings for my September solo show with the Art League. The works are all landscapes of Washington, DC — the federal core, business districts and Georgetown—but as seen by the people who live and work here. I focus on the wonderful light that makes these buildings magical, from early morning to evening. If I’m successful, they will be portraits as unique as my painting of the Sentry to the 54th.
Do you have a favorite museum?
Washington is my favorite museum. The buildings themselves are magnificent, and I have created several paintings that show museum exteriors. So it was only natural to want to paint something inside a museum as well.