I have been thinking a lot about portraits lately because I will be giving a talk on the subject at UC San Diego in June.  A good portrait is a revelation; it gives us insight into the heart and personality of a person.  But.... my premise for the lecture will be that it also reveals much about the artist. 

Velazquez went to Rome in the mid 1600's seeking a commission to paint Pope Innocent X.  He waited months for an interview.  During this time, he painted a portrait of Juan de Pereja, his slave and assistant.  The portrait conveys an overwhelming sense of human dignity. Pareja is treated with the same respect and solemnity as a royal portrait.

Velazquez Juan de Pareja
Picasso was famous for injecting his personal feelings into his work.  We are seeing someone through his eyes and, at the same time, we are seeing Picasso by the way he presents his subject.  For example, for his famous portrait of Gertrude Stein, he was criticized for not depicting her as she was.  He responded that he painted her as she would become. And indeed she did grow into her portrait! At the beginning of his relationship with Dora Maar, his lover is shown with brilliant colors, "which joyously convey the radiance of her youth".  Later, at the end of their relationship, her anguished feelings leap out at the viewer in his painting, The Weeping Woman.  Similar colors, but entirely different expression by the artist of his subject.

Pablo Picasso Dora Maar
Pablo Picasso Weeping Woman
Toulouse Lautrec
 Toulouse Lautrec painted the can-can dancer, Jane Avril, many times.  Lautrec wasn’t simply interested in her as a figure from the world of dancers and prostitutes; he found in her noticeable eccentricity a correspondence to his own physical defects.  Here, Jane Avril stares out at the world with confidence; her gaze demands our attention  As one contemporary remembered, "She was proud. She didn’t know how to cry, nor beg, nor apologise."

Toulouse Lautrec Jane Avril
Otto Dix
Otto Dix, the 20th Century German painter, was so supremely self-confident that he painted himself in the same pose as Durer's self portrait. Dix didn't just emulate an Old Master, he depicted himself as an Old Master.  When the Nazis came to power, Dix was labeled a degenerate artist and he lost his teaching job. And when Nazi Germany collapsed, he was drafted, promptly captured, and ended the war in a French POW camp. A later self portrait as a broken old man shows him without a trace of arrogance.

Otto Dix Self Portrait 1947
Richard Avedon
The photographer, Richard Avedon, claimed, "My portraits are more about me than the people I photograph."  His beloved younger sister, Louise, died at an early age and, afterwards, his photographs of slim, dark haired women permeated much of his work.  Including, Audrey Hepburn.  She was Avedon's muse in the 1950s and 1960s; the likeness and reference to his sister is readily apparent.

Richard Avedon Louis
Richard Avedon Audrey Hepburn
Arnold Newman
 Arnold Newman chose to photograph Marilyn Monroe just seven months before her death, not as a glamorous Hollywood star, but as a confused, intoxicated woman. "She was a very troubled woman, and I knew it immediately.....She was pouring her heart out with all her troubles to Carl (Sandburg) ....I start taking pictures of her, and then she said she couldn't sleep... She couldn't sleep at night."

Arnold Newman Marilyn Monroe
Francis Bacon
Francis Bacon painted wounded and traumatized humanity. His subjects were distorted, isolated souls imprisoned and tormented by existential dilemmas. About his series of paintings called the "screaming popes,"  Bacon says, “I’ve always been very moved by the movement of the mouth and the shape of the mouth and the teeth. People say that these have all sorts of sexual implications . . . I’ve always hoped in a sense to be able to paint the mouth like Monet painted a sunset.”

If you have read this far, then you are probably wondering why and what I choose to portray.  My vision can be found in Street Photography around the World, an exhibition  I am having with the photographer Arthur Lavine.  I love taking candid photographs of people going about their daily business, unaware they are being observed and preserved.  I hope you will be able to see in my work gentle humor and my take on the human condition.  Here is one of a dancer on a rehearsal break.

Dana Levine Trolley Dancer #3
Please come to our exhibition!


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