so many paintings, so little time

Posts Tagged ‘Chardin’

Recent Portraits Revealed

In Uncategorized on June 17, 2010 at 4:12 am

Ken Aptekar, Recent Portraits installation view, James Graham & Sons, NY, 2010

Some months ago I launched Repainter Diaries with the back stories behind paintings I was making for an upcoming gallery show (Ken Aptekar: Recent Portraits, March 11 – April 17, 2010, James Graham & Sons, NY). My encounters with my portrait subjects brimmed with juicy material, certainly more that I could contain in each of their portraits. I didn’t bolt the glass panels that carry my texts to the painted panels until two days before installing in the gallery, so I couldn’t include images of the actual paintings in those early posts. But I also admit to heating up a little suspense about the final results.

Now, of course, the exhibition is over. So I thought it might be a good idea to post a virtual gallery visit for those who couldn’t make it. Also included in the exhibition (but not here) was a series of works based on a historical portrait of Queen Charlotte, and now being installed in the new Mint Museum in Charlotte, NC. Those will be the subject of a later post.

I’m thinking now about new portraits, and hereby open the floor to any and all suggestions! If it’s someone famous, I would appreciate a personal introduction; celebrities can be so elusive! Anyone close friends with Michelle O?

Ken Aptekar, PORTRAIT OF ARLETTE L'HOPITAULT, 2010, 30" x 60"

PORTRAIT OF ARLETTE L’HOPITAULT, 2010, 30″ x 60″, after (right) Jean-Baptiste Chardin, Saying Grace, 1740, and (left) Young Man with a Violin, or Portrait of Charles Theodose Godefroy, c.1738, Louvre, Paris

Text on glass:

To Arlette the woman is not the mother.

The parents are absent. Life in this French home

is sweet. She hears a violinist off to the left.

A servant, a musician, two obedient children.

The sweet harmony of family.

But the woman is trapped. Arlette understands;

every time she slipped up Maman wrote it down

for Papa. Then he would drag her out to the edge

of the wheat field and beat her. She left home

when she was fourteen.

Six months after marrying an abusive butcher,

Arlette begins plotting her getaway. Sixteen years,

one child, and a few finance courses later, she

and Delphine pack their bags and get out.

Later she marries Sammy, the love of her life.

She’d prefer to see the painting without the

protective glass.

Ken Aptekar, PORTRAIT OF IRA GLASS, 2010, 35" x 70"

PORTRAIT OF IRA GLASS, 2010, 35″ x 70″, after Jennifer Bartlett, 5AM (from the series, AIR: 24 Hours), 1984, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Text on glass:

Why the children’s drawing in Jennifer Bartlett’s

painting? Ira evades my question, then gives in.

“You’re in love, giddy, you’re dancing in the

kitchen at 5AM. You feel like a child and that

child part of you is alive. If you’re lucky you

have relationships where you can express

yourself as you are at every age. The 5 year-old,

the 10 year-old, the 20 year-old in you comes

alive again with certain people, when you’re

in love, most of all. You want every part of you

to live. The seven year old is right there making

the painting. That’s what expresses just how

in love they are.” Ira glances at me. “Alright,”

he laughs, “you dragged it out of me.”


PORTRAIT OF THE ARTIST’S FATHER (MILTON APTEKAR), 2010, 30″ x 60″, after Peter Bruegel the Elder, The Wedding Feast, 1568, Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna

Text on glass:

“Chicken soup,” he thought. “Bagpiper at your wedding?” I ask.

“No way.  Sam Barnett on tenor with a trio. Supper at the synagogue,

nothing fancy.”  Sam introduced Milt to Anne three years before.  “Your

mother and I,”  my Dad recalls, “always liked a lot of people having a good

time at a party.  Live music, that was it.”  Sixty-five years later in 2005, Sam

played at Anne’s funeral.  Milt bought the Bruegel print at the museum in

Detroit for their first house, picked up a raw wood frame for two, three dollars at

Hudson’s.   “I had to come up with a finish,”  he told me recently before he died.

Ken Aptekar, PORTRAIT OF JULIA PEYTON-JONES, 2010, 35" x 35"

PORTRAIT OF JULIA PEYTON-JONES, 2010, 35″ x 35″, after Thomas Gainsborough, Self-portrait, 1758-59, National Portrait Gallery, London

Text on glass:

They were a sign of her family’s history of art patronage. After her parents

moved out of Hengrave Hall in Suffolk, her mother thought about

whom to leave what. Julia asked for the Gainsborough drawings.

Her sister wanted the jewels. Later in London, her mother, a drinker and

chainsmoker, started a fire in the living room. She was lucky to escape

unharmed.  Not so, the Gainsboroughs. Julia left for Florence at 19,

met and fell in love with Art, became an artist. Later, she took over a former

tea pavilion in Kensington Gardens. Twenty years on, it’s the world-renowned

Serpentine Gallery, where as Director she presents the work of numerous

artists and architects amidst the greenery. The fire destroyed three of the

four drawings. Julia has the fourth. When I ask how she felt about her mother’s

explanation for why she didn’t save them, she replies, “I took it quite

literally, rather as if she had said, ‘The wall is green.’” In fact her mother

told her, ‘I didn’t want you to have them so I burned them.’ ”

Ken Aptekar, PORTRAIT OF JULIE & PETER CUMMINGS, 2010, 30" x 60"

PORTRAIT OF JULIE & PETER CUMMINGS, 2010, 30″ x 60″, after Freidel Dzubas, Towards Darkness, 1978, Collection Peter Cummings and Julie Fisher Cummings, New York

Text on glass:

She likes the blue speeding

like a comet out of the dark into

the light. He sees it going

into the darkness. She lingers

at the side of the painting,

preferring small spaces. He feels

cramped by them, and breathes

in the painting’s airy center.

After they met, he told her

he probably wasn’t going to

get married again, but if he did,

“it would be to you.” Her parents

gave them the Dzubas canvas

for a wedding gift. Together

thirty-two years later, they love it

each in their own way.

Ken Aptekar, PORTRAIT OF SAIED AZALI, 2010, 60" x 30"

PORTRAIT OF SAIED AZALI, 2010, 60″ x 30″, after Bartolomé Esteban Murillo, Two Women at a Window, c. 1655/1660, and Sir Anthony van Dyck, Head of a Young Man, c. 1617/1618, National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC

Text on glass:

If not for the Revolution, I would have become a doctor. My

parents sent me abroad to study before it began. Both of

them were doctors. They were never around.

We had cooks at home. Under the new regime,

my father, an Anglican convert, was sent to prison. Shortly

after he got out, he died. With school finished, I stayed away

and partied. Got into the club scene, opened the restaurant

in DC. I was never close to my parents. Two years ago, just

before my mother died, I went to her and tried to understand.

She’s happy to see me. If I walk up to the window, she’ll talk

to me. I can’t read him. His mind is grinding. He looks

bruised, distant, reminds me of my brother in Australia.

If my parents said Sit, he’d sit, and be miserable obeying.

I don’t want to be there.

In Iran there are boundaries you don’t cross. She told me,

We did our best with you kids, we aren’t perfect. Even last

week I picked up the phone to call her.

Ken Aptekar, PORTRAIT OF SUSAN WHITEHEAD, 2010, 60" x 60"

PORTRAIT OF SUSAN WHITEHEAD, 2010, 60″ x 60″, after (left) J. M. W. Turner, The Slave Ship, 1840, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and (right) Vincent Van Gogh, The Ravine, 1889, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Text on glass:





Ken Aptekar, PORTRAIT OF NINO ALCOCK-BOSELLI, 2010, 30" x60"

PORTRAIT OF NINO ALCOCK-BOSELLI, 2010, 30″ x60″, after (left) Jacques-Louis David, General Bonaparte, c. 1797-98 and Portrait of Gaspar Meyer, 1795-96, Louvre, Paris

“Vague, vague, vague. It’s not done.

He’s ugly, his hair reminds me of a

bad teacher. They should give it away

or maybe sell it,” says Nino, a 7 year-old

Parisian. Nino can get to the Louvre in

ten minutes on the Metro.

As for Jacques-Louis David’s Portrait of

Gaspar Mayer, he’d take that one home

with him. He likes “the funny curls of

Gaspar’s hair, the blue and the white

and the red” of his clothes. Plus

it’s all colored in.

Ken Aptekar, PORTRAIT OF THE ARTIST, 2010, 60" x 60"

PORTRAIT OF THE ARTIST, 2010, 60″ x 60″, after (clockwise from upper left):

Charles Demuth, Love Love Love [Homage to Gertrude Stein (?)], 1929, Fundacion Coleccion Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid

Charles Demuth, Poster Portrait: O’Keeffe, 1923-24, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University, New Haven

Charles Demuth, I saw the figure five in gold (Poster Portrait: William Carlos Williams), 1928, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Francois Boucher, Young woman with a bouquet of roses, Private collection

Text on glass: NOW SHOWING K.A.!

Ken Aptekar, TAKE MY HAND (Portrait of Mme de Pompadour), 2009, 35" x 35"

TAKE MY HAND (Portrait of Mme de Pompadour), 2009, 35″ x 35″, after Francois Boucher, Portrait of Mme de Pompadour, 1759, Wallace Collection, London

Text on glass: take my hand

Arlette in Paris

In New Portraits at James Graham & Sons on January 13, 2010 at 3:52 pm

Went to the Louvre recently with Arlette, my concierge, to begin work on her portrait. She works in the building where my Paris studio is located. She became a concierge at the age of fifty two, and is now unquestionably the best concierge in the world. Arlette totally transformed the building.

Before Arlette, there were Robert and Sylvie. He was the type of Frenchman who starts his morning with a drink “pour tuer le ver,” (to kill the worm) then continues drinking all day. She was his young puppydog simpleminded wife. They ended up in the job when they lost their way back to the Zola novel where they belonged. Though not malevolent, they did nothing beyond wheeling the trash bins out to the street at the end of the day, yelling at each other across the courtyard (“RRRO-BEHHHHHHRR!” “CONNASSE!”–don’t ask), and scrounging for food to feed the zoo that was lodged in the loge with them at the entrance to the courtyard, the stink from which you recoiled when collecting your mail, which they couldn’t be bothered to distribute.

Oh and then there was their “work” for the small time thug, Monsieur Jules.  His construction business was located in one of the former stables across from my studio. Robert and Sylvie routinely neglected to enforce the rule against parking in the courtyard for Monsieur Jules. But one time I had enough, and stuck a little reminder on the windshield of his big truck blocking my window all day (he was too lazy to pull into his garage). Later that night, the lock to our apartment was crazy glued, and then a few days later, a lovely pile of dogshit appeared on the welcome mat in front of our door.

Monsieur Jules ruled the building, intimidating older tenants into paying for unneeded repairs, wrangling hugely overpriced contracts for building renovations with kickbacks to the management company, dispatching his Corsican to flash a revolver when trying to make a point more forcefully. After Robert and Sylvie retired, Arlette one morning motioned for me to accompany her outside the building to the street. She could barely contain her giggles. I said, “What?” She said, “Jules.” More giggles. Pained look of shame (Arlette is Catholic). Giggle. I repeated, “What?” “Jules… car crash. He’s dead!!” We both erupted in laughter.

What used to be a ragtag collection of crap six-story buildings arrayed around a grim courtyard with garages, former stables, and entrances to the various buildings, under the iron grip of Monsieur Jules, Arlette transformed singlehandedly into a garden of eden with plants and trees and obedient apartment dwellers no longer throwing cigarette butts and trash wherever they wanted. She even won the award for the best courtyard garden in Paris’ 10th Arrondissement, presented to her at city hall by our Socialist Mayor (at the time) Tony Dreyfus.

Twice a year she organizes building-wide potluck gatherings in the courtyard for all the residents, owners and renters alike. And contributes quiches and fruit tarts she makes in the loge, laid out on long tables that she and Sammy, her dear husband, set up.

I arranged to meet Arlette during her break from 12:30 to 5. She works from 7:30am to 12:30pm and then 5-7 Monday through Friday cleaning the six staircases and hallways in the building, taking out the trash, watering the plants, receiving packages and distributing the mail, and supervises building repairs when necessary. On her off hours she cleans apartments and takes in ironing. The woman works hard, and manages to be cheerful and personally interested in the lives of huge numbers of residents who care about her enormously.

I picked Arlette up at 3PM for our first ever outing beyond the confines of the building. We took the metro to the Louvre, a ten minute ride. I decided to head directly to the 18th c. French paintings, up several flights of stone stairs, through miles of galleries, to where the Chardins were hung.  Eunice (Lipton, my dearest) had suggested Chardin for Arlette to consider for his iconic depictions of domestic life. I mentioned to Arlette as we were winding our way through the galleries that the Louvre had agreed to let her take one of their paintings off the wall and bring it home, as a way of thanking her for taking the time to allow me to do her portrait. She seemed pleased at the idea. I knew that this act of generosity by the Louvre reflected the extraordinary support for their work that contemporary artists feel in French society. All that I asked of Arlette in return is that she decide which painting she was going to take with her, and tell me why.

We looked at all the Chardins. There must have been twenty or so. I asked if she found anything that might interest her; I was preparing to move to Plan B, when she paused in front of “Le Bénédicité” (“Saying Grace”).

We began to talk, videotape running. Arlette told me her life story in stark detail, prompted entirely by what she saw in the painting in front of us. There was another Chardin nearby, which came up in the discussion. In the space of an hour, Chardin and Arlette had given me everything I needed.

Arlette’s portrait will be one of nine or ten I’m going to show in March in New York: people well-known by millions, or by 20 or 30; artworld figures and others who could care less about art; young and old–imagine a great dinner party. But my portraits will not be recognizable visual representations of the “sitters.”

I’ll use what we’ve looked at as source material for a new painting on wood panel with an overlay of words developed out of what was said. Then Xing Li, ace sandblasting artisan at Time Art Glass Etching, will engrave that text onto thick glass that I bolt over the painted panel.

In other words I’ll be making a new kind of portrait. Instead of showing the person, my portraits describe how the sitter looks–at paintings. The excitement and challenge for me results from interacting with an individual across paintings from the past, discovering indirectly something essential about that person. The idea comes out of my conviction that a painting really only begins to mean anything when a viewer responds to it, and its meaning changes according to who’s looking.

Next: E. F. and the portrait that wasn’t to be.

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