While James McNeill Whistler’s painting of his mother is an American icon, a portrait depicting one of the 19th century artist’s more tenuous relationships never made it to public view. Miffed by William Merritt Chase’s attempt to capture his likeness — calling it “a monstrous lampoon,” in fact — Whistler quickly lost interest in completing a reciprocal image of his younger colleague.
Though the two painters’ efforts to portray each other were not mutually appreciated, the practice of artists painting artists has proven a popular one. “The idea really resonated with the artists we contacted,” says Doug Reina, who teamed up with fellow painter Ty Stroudsburg to assemble some 60 works by a host of regional talent who alternately take on the roles of creator and subject in “Face to Face: Artists Painting Artists,” running June 14-Sept. 30 at the Long Island Museum in Stony Brook.
“It’s been an opportunity to paint friends based on knowledge and experiences already established,” says Kelynn Alder, whose depictions of José Rodriguez Fuster, surrounded by a mosaic of his Cuban imagery, and Christian White are included in the show. “Christian and I have spent past summers sketching, painting, having lunch and swimming. I thought Nissequogue Beach the perfect setting for his portrait. And, as he is proud of his Dutch lineage, the straw hat is a nod to van Gogh’s self-portraits.”
Alder appears here, too, in canvases — one by Nancy Bueti-Randall and another by White. “The real challenge is to select which face to reveal in a portrait. Nancy paints an undeniable sadness that surfaces on my face, yet she cloaks my figure in the hopeful colors of Mexican patterns from where she knows I draw my strength,” notes Alder. “Christian’s portrait of me is more idealized, or at least exposes less worry lines.”
Connections — old, new and ongoing — abound. Larry Rivers and Howard Kanovitz, Cornelia Foss and April Gornik, William King and Tracy Harris. Along with contemporary portraits, the exhibition reveals the region’s long tradition of artists portrayed by other artists, from William Sidney Mount’s classic monotone oil painting of his older brother, Shepard Alonzo Mount, to Florine Stettheimer’s colorful and quirky depiction of muralist Louis Bouché. “It’s rare that you have the opportunity to pull together so many skilled approaches and styles with a single subject,” says museum curator Joshua Ruff.
The show also includes a video put together by Reina featuring 19 of the painters talking about their experiences in front of and behind the easel. “It puts a different face on it,” notes Ruff. The exhibition demonstrates, whether in homage or for convenience, an invasion (as Elaine de Kooning termed it) or a delight, artists will always look at each other not only for, but as compelling subject matter.
WHAT “Face to Face: Artists Painting Artists”
WHEN | WHERE 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Thursday-Saturday and noon-5 p.m. Sunday, June 14-Sept. 30, Long Island Museum, 1200 Rte. 25A, Stony Brook
INFO $10, $7 ages 62 and older, $5 students, free ages 5 and younger; 631-751-0066, longislandmuseum.org