Thursday, February 26, 2015

Majority Rising: Inspired by Kathleen McKenna

The fourth installment in my series of blogs leading up to the Majority Rising show which curated and participated in at the Artist Archives of the Western Reserve for Women’s History Month. 

Majority Rising, subtitled, Cleveland’s Female Gaze, opened March 12th and featured work by legendary Cleveland figurative artists, Shirley Aley CampbellLee HeinenKathleen McKennaMarsha SweetMarilyn Szalay…and me, Judy Takács.

My contribution to the show as curator and participant, was the portraits I painted of the living artists in this exceptional grouping.

Today I’m shining the spotlight on Kathleen McKenna.
Kathleen McKenna, Walking, Walking Man, Walking

Kathleen and I share some of the same history as portrait artists coming of age in Cleveland during a time when portrait painting was still looked at as the illegitimate stepchild of fine art. We both studied portrait painting extensively under José Cintron, who for many years kept the portrait torch alive in Cleveland higher art education, when no one else was. We both have stories of portrait commissions and their frustrations, as well as their triumphs.

And, I also must thank Kathleen, who was the one who first contacted me from the Artist Archives with the invitation to become an archived artist.

When speaking with Kathleen about her work, she used the words “nervous energy” about six times, so I shall appropriate that term when I talk about what inspires me in her paintings.

Pentimenti is a Renaissance Italian term that refers to the many marks made by artists as they are finding the essential form and gesture when drawing a figure or object. Left in place, those searching lines, along with the heavier and more definite form those lines have ”found,” serve to show the decision making process the artist went through. It also shows us that these artists were indeed human and completed a process of sketch and search before profound brilliance took over for the final and exquisite masterpiece.
Kathleen McKenna, Malala’s Muse

The same is true today, and these pentimenti lines are evidence of the nervous energy Kathleen puts into the beginning, middle…and end of her paintings. They are also calligraphic, and reminiscent of drawing (as opposed to painting)…which, in my book, is the backbone of serious portraiture.

Kathleen’s painting, Malala’s Muse was inspired by the heroic fourteen year old Pakistani girl, Malala Yousafzai, who simply wanted an education for girls in her country and was targeted, shot and left for dead by the Taliban…on a schoolbus no less.

Kathleen’s models for this painting are girls from her neighborhood who safely attend the local public school and enjoying the freedom to learn, play music and be inspired. She thought it a fitting tribute to name the painting after the young hero who fights for these basic human rights for girls in the Middle East.

I too, am incredibly inspired by Malala, and the powerful feminism and love of learning embodied by her story. I also loved the pentimenti aspect of Kathleen’s painting, so I chose to invite Malala’s Muse to my painting of Karen as well. 

As a life-long never-recovering addict to life-drawing, I always begin my paintings gesturally. I then refine and refine with value, color, and then detail, trying to preserve the initial spontenaety of gesture, while covering the actual gestural lines. I don’t consider this a bad thing to polish a painting to a finish, because, as I like to say, “It ain’t right until its right, and when it’s right, it’s right.” And I also have many “fresh starts” that never went further because of that “leave it alone it’s brilliant” happy voice that often sings in my head as I paint.

With Kathleen’s painting, however, I decided to listen…a bit…to that happy voice, and embrace the pentimenti of my Muse drawing. Kathleen’s image in the painting, became more finished, and, in places, I had to force the return of spontaneity.  

Judy Takács, Inspired by Malala and by Kathleen McKenna

Of the 5 portraits I painted for Majority Rising, Kathleen’s image was perhaps the most difficult to render. Glasses always throw me for a loop, but she said they are a familiar part of her face, so I let her keep them on…when I paint someone, the glasses are always negotiable, even though I prefer them off. And Kathleen’s quiet, genteel presence contrasted with her exuberantly gestural paint marks, so her portrait really shows two ideas…which hopefully I have married, but also want to recognize as separate and distinct.

I call her portrait, Inspired by Malala and by Kathleen McKenna.

I’m honored that this painting and three more of mine, are to be exhibited with amazing work from Northeast Ohio’s art stars to celebrate Women’s History Month at Lakeland Community College:

from Woman IX

Artist Reception: Sunday March 6th from 3:30 to 5:00

Show dates: February 27th through April 1

Lakeland Community College7700 Clocktower Drive
Kirtland, Ohio