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Q&A with Painter George Carr

Jim, oil, by George Carr (click for a larger image)
Jim, oil, by George Carr (click for a larger image)

What’s Jim thinking about behind that dark expression? We’ll never know, but we can ask the artist how this portrait came to be. Here’s our Q&A with George Carr, the painter (and former sculptor) whose portrait won the Second Place Award from juror Paul Reuther in the January All-Media Exhibit.

What was your goal with Jim?
George Carr: This painting was done in the context of an Art League open studio, where Jim is one of the regular models. Even though there was no requirement for me to achieve a good likeness of him, since he was not paying me for a portrait (rather we were paying him) I always try for a likeness of the models. It seems to me that getting a good likeness of a subject is one of the greatest challenges in representational art, so pulling it off acceptably is something to be proud of. Even some of the best portraits by the best painters are usually off in some subtle, hard-to-define way, I think.

What was the inspiration for the subject’s pose and expression?
Jim’s very masculine, middle-aged face is a rich subject every time I work from him. He has a severe, glowering brow that plays off interestingly against a barely-discernible touch of humor in the rest of his expression.

Jim (detail) by George Carr
Jim (detail) by George Carr

Why are you a painter? What appeals to you about portrait and figure work?
I was a professional sculptor for a decade or so, and before that a sculptor’s assistant for artists like Frederick Hart and Raymond Kaskey. When I tried oil painting for the first time exactly ten years ago, I fell in love with it because of the greater creativity of the process as compared to sculpture. With sculpture most of the artist’s time is taken up with technical tasks like armature-building, mold making and casting.

Working with the figure has always appealed to me, maybe because I am mechanically minded and people are complex 3D structures that are fun to try to puzzle out.

Why did you decide to try oil painting on that day 10 years ago?
At the time I was a computer graphics instructor at the Maryland College of Art & Design and we got a discount on any classes we took, so I signed up for an evening oil painting class.

Do you still sculpt, or not any more?
No, I went about as far as I could with that art form and now look forward to spending the rest of my life getting better as a painter.

What’s your favorite portrait by another artist?
Robert Liberace has been an important teacher for me, and I just love his portrait of a little girl with freckles, which is untitled. Back when I was doing portrait busts I decided that there were certain factors that made a portrait subject difficult when present: youth, attractiveness, female-ness and a smiling expression. Rob nailed three of the four with his little oil study.

Portrait study, oil on board, by Robert Liberace.
Portrait study, oil on board, by Robert Liberace.

What are you working on now?
For the past four years or so I have been attending 3–4 long pose open studios per week, trying to get to be a better painter, and I still do that. After a disappointing show several years ago I decided to hold off trying to sell paintings. Participating in the Art League shows is my first attempt in a long time at marketing my work. I also just just joined DailyPaintworks.com to see if there might be an opportunity for sales there.

Recently I decided to hire a beautiful woman who works at my gym to sit for a portrait, but I’m not sure working working this way this makes sense for a starving artist! We’ll see.

The January All-Media Exhibit is open through Monday, February 2.

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