Friday, January 14, 2011
An Innate Eloquence
An Innate Eloquence
By Tom Wachunas
Of all the genres of representational painting, arguably none is more demanding of the artist, or universally appealing to viewers, than portraiture. It is a highly specialized skill, this translating of a convincing human likeness into paint on a flat surface. But what does that mean really? Is a portrait successful merely for its faithful recapitulation of the subject’s physical features? The best portraits invariably elicit our praise for how “lifelike” they are, but again, what does that entail? And is this specialized skill strictly an acquired one, only after an unspecified number of years lived in disciplined observation, refined through hard, repeated practice?
You could well apply that last question to mastering any painting genre, as most truly dedicated painters will tell you that theirs is an ever evolving, lifetime pursuit. But there is always a certain point in any artist’s journey when we recognize that he or she has “arrived,” which is to say their work clearly demonstrates a mature clarity of vision and singularity of skill. And I think the question is decidedly more pointed when it comes to mastering portraiture.
Then of course there is the notion of that sometimes mysterious, and certainly miraculous thing we call natural, inborn talent. Giftedness. Innate creativity. Sometimes that part of the equation is not always manifest at a young age. It’s not consciously acquired so much as simply recognized and, hopefully, developed. And sometimes it is indeed recognized and pursued early on. Enter young Heather Bullach.
A soon- to- be graduate of Malone University, her work is currently on view at Anderson Creative in her one-woman show called “Lineage:Women of Culture.” Her eight oil portraits are lovely and arresting evidence of a painter remarkably accomplished beyond her years. The authoritative, fluid confidence with which these images are executed is all the more astonishing when you consider the fact that, while drawing faces in other media is nothing new to Bullach (as seen in the exquisite Conte Crayon studies on paper that accompany some of the works here), technically her first oil portraits on canvas emerged just last April.
This is an edifying exhibit, too, for its thoughtful and informative presentation of the artist’s process and goals. Each painting is accompanied by a statement about the ethnic lineage of the woman we see in the portrait – the woman Bullach came to know and translate so eloquently into the challenging medium of oil paint. Several of the images appear to be simply brown underpaintings (based on photographs) for a finished color portrait (from live sittings), yet even in these Bullach has deftly provided, with commanding brushwork, sufficient detail to realize her stated desire of communicating the spirit of her subject.
And isn’t that, after all, the transcendent power of compelling portraiture? We understandably admire any painter’s technical expertise and dexterity in arranging lines, forms, and colors into reasonable and interesting facsimiles of outward reality. Bullach clearly offers that much. More rare are those truly extraordinary portrait painters who can somehow deliver the sense that we are seeing the ineffable essence of a person. Consider her among their ranks.
Photo, courtesy Heather Bullach: “Nadia” by Heather Bullach, oil on canvas, 2010, 24” x 24”, on view in “Lineage: Women of Culture” at Anderson Creative, 331 Cleveland Avenue NW, downtown Canton. Through Feb.19, Gallery hours 12:00 noon to 5:00 p.m., Wednesday - Saturday