Tuesday, September 23, 2008


Ancestor 1

Acrylic on board, 6" x 6"
$125.00 + $6.00 shipping in US.
Available for purchase starting 09/23/08, 12 noon PST

And now for something completely different. I've been doing a series of small portraits lately, inspired by my longtime interest in old photographs. Over the years I've done many paintings along this line.

Mrs. Berger was an elderly lady who lived next door to us when I was growing up. I mowed her lawn and in return she gave me shiny silver dollars. She was the last living link in a family that migrated to America from Germany, and when she died my father became the default executor of her estate. I ended up "inheriting" her old leather-bound photo albums. I leaf through the yellowing pages now and then. The faces in those haunting tintypes stare out at me so poignantly, as I realize no one now alive knows who they were; a fate that awaits us all eventually.

I love using those portraits as starting points for paintings. I don't feel constrained to get a likeness (who would know?) or follow the photo closely; they just provide a launching point for my imagination. Studying the photographs I see the obvious shared humanity. But there is a strangeness as well, the remoteness of a lost era and lost culture, that I find equally compelling and interesting to explore in paint.

5 comments:

Mary said...

Hi Don,
This painting is fantastic. I have a thing about old "lost ancestors" photos. Something so familiar and yet distant. I come across a lot of old photos at my job in the antique store. I also am the keeper of my mother's photos, all the old relatives whom might as well be strangers as nothing is marked. It's funny looking at old photos how similiar they are. My favorite ones are someone standing in front of an old car with their suitcase in hand. I like old suitcases too. Or smiling at the beach in their old fashioned swimsuits. The baby you painted is a classic also. Brilliant. I've been collecting old bottles (the old outhouse variety)that are rectangular with a flat surface and applying photos on them. I scan the photos on my computer and print onto a decal paper. The decal slides onto the bottle via water and then I put two coats of varnish on it. You can see thru the photo and yet still make out the image. It's started me on a path. I do look for bottles everywhere. I have about a hundred. I drive Jack crazy. Anyway, I absolutely love this painting and can't wait to see what's next. I really like the background. It adds greatly to the whole painting. You are the coolest! -Mary Kernan

A Reason to Paint said...

Fascinating post Don! I am also drawn to the notion of the "forgotten" people of times past.

Don Gray said...

Hi Mary, great to hear from you. This sounds really interesting what you're doing with the photos and bottles. Someone just emailed me wondering how to transfer photos onto watercolor paper--I'm going to pass on what you're doing--thanks!

Hope to see you and Jack before too long. Be well.

Don Gray said...

Thanks, Triecia. I think most of us find old photos intriguing, don't we?

Erika Nelson said...

I was pleasantly surprised by your change of subject Don. This really is very intriguing and very effective. Well I can finally find use for my husband's genealogy collection and maybe paint from some. I too look at some things or some people who have been around for many years before me and find myself caught in a connection. Too bad I can't make a living wondering lol I do it so well. I'm just wonderful that way, you know? :) Instead I paint and make a dollar at least on a good day :D Ok off to the next one.