Let’s say you’re walking down a street and you see a friend on the next corner. She’s too far away for you to see the color of her hair or any features of her face. How do you know, at such a distance, that it’s your friend and not someone else? The short answer is that you’re seeing her gestalt, her overall presence or body language: the way she walks, her height and weight, how she carries herself, the tilt of her head, the swing of her arms, and so forth.
I wanted to paint a portrait of Ruth because she is lovely. But I wanted to suggest more about her than beauty. She was indifferent to glamour, so her choice of an informal, white dress seemed perfect. As a dancer, her physical strength was a large part of her personality. She radiated the intelligence and self-confidence of a young woman living on her own in Spain, making friends, mastering a foreign language. Although she is a very direct and outgoing person, she can often be thoughtful and introspective. She was having to make some major decisions about the path her life was going to take, so I posed her on a threshold, not quite inside, not quite outside.
A portrait has always seemed to me to be more than just an accurate representation of a face. And painting a portrait is not just the work of an artist: it’s an act of collaboration, a partnership between artist and subject. I said that I posed her, but the truth is, by being herself, she posed herself. I paid close attention to her, to her presence. Which is another way of saying that we – together – made the portrait.