Portrait aficionados and festival-goers find the specialty focus of the event to be exhilarating. Third-time participant and 2004 Grand Prize winner, Canadian portrait artist Deborah Kerr found this year’s Festival to be the best ever. “There is even greater variety as the Festival grows. When I run out of batteries, I come here to recharge” Kerr commented. “As a participant, it is great to re-connect with people in your niche. It is a breath of fresh air.”
Through an unprecedented opportunity to follow master artists at work, participants can watch as portraits are conceived, designed and developed. First-time participant and new member of the Portrait Society, digital media artist Ana Klasnja found the Festival experience particularly insightful. “This was really interesting. You don’t often have the opportunity to see how others work,” Klasnja explained.
Dan Everett Thompson
Well-known American artist and master-class instructor at New York’s Art Student League, Dan Everett Thompson opened the 2004 Portrait Festival with his daring charcoal drawing demonstration titled, Figure Drawing: An Exploration of Light and Shadow, Structure and Form modeling. The Portrait Society proudly presented this unique drawing demonstration of the male torso, a first of its kind at any North American or international art conference. Festival participants were treated to a highly instructive demonstration, where Everett Thompson underscored the importance of knowledge of anatomy for the portrait artist. Everett Thompson graciously loaded the participants with secrets and tips for effectively establishing the human form.
The spontaneous and unscripted nature of the portraiture demos are key to the effectiveness of the Portrait Society’s workshops. Over the course of four to five hours, the master artist takes the demonstration portrait from zero to completion. With the challenges of a new setting, a new model and a live audience, the presenters often gain as much from the demonstrations as do audience members. Internationally-recognized portrait artist and the dominant force in fine art portraiture in the People’s Republic of China, Yuqi Wang confirmed the fresh approach for demonstrations at the Festival. "Presenting at the Festival is a challenge…you never know what will be done with the model."
Wang’s demonstration of The Steps in Creating an Oil Portrait brought together an elegant former prima ballerina from Moscow’s Bolshoi Ballet, a full Swan Lake costume and a beautiful white spotlight. Adept application of "Rubens’ technique" on a warm prepared canvas allowed Wang to capture the translucent nature of the model’s skin, plus the interplay with the spotlight. The subject was striking to view and was equally fascinating for Wang to capture before the live audience. "I was very inspired for this demonstration. I’m a fan a ballet and I’ve been dreaming about Swan Lake since I was a child." To top off the afternoon, at the end of the high-spirited demonstration, Wang’s model, Tanya Trankvelitskaia treated the audience to a live performance of an excerpt from Swan Lake. The audience was clearly charmed and awed.
Top Turkish watercolour artist, Atanur Dogan, joined the Portrait Festival for the first time in 2004. With his prints and posters enjoying massive popular appeal in Turkey, Dogan’s work is particularly known for capturing the national spirit and character of Turkey’s rural people. Dogan’s aptly titled watercolour demonstration, Capturing Character and Expression with Water and Colour, was fast-paced and daring. The presentation successfully demonstrated how to rapidly capture a likeness in watercolour, using bold pigments and plenty of water. Festival participants gained a clear sense of the confidence and knowledge required to successfully execute a large-scale watercolour.
The Portrait Society of Canada has not simply designed the Festival as a technique showcase, but also as a multi-faceted art experience. Participating in the Festival can add depth to the artists’ knowledge on many levels. During her pastel portrait demonstration, aptly titled Looking Beyond the Technical, internationally-renowned Swiss portrait artist and third-time presenter, Gwenneth Barth, reminded the audience of the relational nature of being an artist. "The connection each person has with art is unique and the mystery of how each person connects to art has to be appreciated. It can take a lifetime to find your own connection to art," Barth gently commented to her expectant audience.
In another first-of-its kind at a North-American Fine Art Conference, the Portrait Society of Canada proudly presented a sculpture demonstration by renowned Canadian artist and engineer, Andrew Benyei. Benyei’s unique additive sculpture technique mesmerized the audience as the form was developed - from the skeleton outward. Audience members felt that they not only experienced a powerful demonstration, but that they experienced a birth!
Political powerhouse and director of the Portrait Gallery of Canada, Dr. Lilly Koltun was the honoured guest of the Portrait Society and the keynote speaker at the gala dinner event. Dr. Koltun’s vision has been the driving force which has brought the dream of a Canadian portrait museum to life. The first Canadian museum dedicated to Canadian portraiture will open in Ottawa in 2007. The state-of-the-art facility will be located at 100 Wellington Street, directly facing Canada’s national parliament buildings. Portrait Society members can look forward to a warm relationship the Portrait Gallery of Canada as the Society will be one of the main sources for commissioned work through the national gallery.
The next Portrait Festival promises more of the new and unique demonstrations that make this conference stand out. The next Portrait Arts Festival of the Portrait Society of Canada will be held in May 2006 (after completion of renovations at the Art Gallery of Ontario). Portrait Society chair Veronica Tsyglan has plans already in the works, including a several demonstrations with a specific focus on rendering the always challenging subject of hands and feet. Tsyglan explains, Our Portrait Society prides itself on offering what portrait artists genuinely want and need. It’s clearly our fresh approach that keeps the word spreading about us.
Always dynamic, the Society has a full complement of activities in the pipeline for the upcoming years. Society members will be invited to over four specialty workshops and events over the course of 2005. In addition, Tsyglan looks forward to the launch of the portrait artists’ agency which should begin operations in late 2006, in conjunction with the Portrait Gallery of Canada.