Monday, May 16, 2011

Jan Gyorfi-West and Her Search for Dignity, Feeling and Character in Portrait Painting

This painting by Jan Gyorfi-West touches me. There is a certain, unadorned honesty in this work. We are looking at everyday people. The soldier wears no medals or identifying symbols of rank and the woman wears no jewellery. They could be anyone or they could be everyone. Their faces are the faces of ordinary people and they have a certain look of hope about them; as if their love will bring them happiness and promise for the future.

The picture hangs around two elements: love and the man's uniform. The uniform positions the picture in time and place. He wears basic khaki and both the letters TIA on his arm suggests that he belonged to a Nova Scotia Regiment.

But there is more. The man's uniform appears to define their relationship. Had the soldier been recently demobbed or had he just enlisted or been conscripted or had he recently received orders that he would be sent overseas? Who really knows but the artist.

When I look at this work I have flashbacks from my childhood of old photographs which sat atop fireplace mantels and radios. Was an old photograph the source of this work?

Its interesting how such a simple and straight painting has so much to say. This is a world of absolutes. Notice how the lady wears no necklace, pendant, discernible ear rings, or facial makeup. Her sole concession to adornment is the little white handkerchief which sticks neatly out of her breast pocket.

I find myself looking at their faces. The woman looks directly into the picture and she has a certain look of enthusiasm in her expression. The man's eyes have a touch of sorrow about them and their upward look suggest a lower positioning of his chin. It would be easy to read into this expression that his life experiences were a burden for him to bear.

There is an almost metaphorical appeal within this work. When I look at it,it isn't hard to see myself facing my own life experiences, complete with their struggles, hopes and joys, and expectations.

To view this painting and others in Jan's Online Gallery, please click here.

Artist's Comments
I'm flattered that someone saw so much in my portrait. I was commissioned to do this about 3 years ago, by an 85 year old veteran, he wanted himself & his wife as they were 60 years ago.

I had to work from 2 black & white photos - the main problem was the uniform colour. Until I discovered that black and cad. orange made khaki.

In all my portraits, I try to show dignity, feeling and character. The result is, I hope, an image of a living, thinking person.

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