Thursday, February 25, 2010

The Celebrity Series

Those who know me well know of my ridiculous obsession with being on the "pulse" of hollywood--I'm just a little bit curious about pop culture icons and the world of celebrity gossip.  Last winter, I embarked on a series of large scale portraits of well known celebrity and political icons by combining my love of portraiture with a combination of my style of abstracted squares and skin "tattooing".

My Sarah (Palin)
acrylic on canvas
48"w x 60" h

The first in this series is a portrait of Sarah Palin.  No, I am in no way interested in the political views or controversy surrounding Ms. Palin.  One day I came across a full page image of Sarah in People magazine that struck me as an image that I just HAD to paint.  I do think she is a beautiful woman and at the time, it was difficult to go more than 20 minutes in a day without hearing her name on the news.  My first thought was to attempt to create a fully "realistic" portrait of her.  Once I started painting, I changed my mind and chose to just paint her eyes realistically, while trying out her hair in "squares".  I was exhilarated by the result.

It is a huge painting (4' wide x 5' high) and basically attacks the viewer from every angle.  I painted the little bit of background with matte black, almost giving it a "black velvet" effect.

My peers suggested that I figure out how to show Sarah Palin the image.  Turns out, that part wasn't so difficult.  I googled, "How do I reach Sarah Palin"?  At the time she was still governor of Alaska, so I was directed to a form letter from her office.  I sent off my letter and waited.  Well, I waited exactly 10 hours and got a letter back!  Her office thanked me for the letter and they did go to my website and Sarah herself did see the painting.  Wow.  Cool.

Oh Bama.
acrylic on canvas
48" w x 60" h

The second portrait is of the man himself--Mr. President Barack Obama.  He is the same size as My Sarah, also with a matte black background to maintain some cohesiveness with the Sarah portrait.  I went to town will the "illustrated man" sort of skin--swirls and shapes of all my favourite colours.  I painted his mouth realistically this time.

I shipped both paintings off to Infusion Gallery in Los Angeles, CA to take part in a group show there for the month of June 2009.  There were over 350 people in attendance at the opening gala!  While neither piece actually sold at the show, they increased my viewing audience and reached people I could never reach while showing here in Toronto.  In fact, due to the show, I was contacted by a gallerist out of Italy, who invited me to show in a castle in Tuscany in October 2009.  I wasn't able to take part then, but have been contacted by the gallery again and it may be something I consider in the future.

 I had the two pieces shipped back to Toronto (it was quite an undertaking to ship the pieces to LA and back!!  I hope they thoroughly enjoyed their holiday there) to take part in the first ever "Art Beyond Walls" pop-up gallery show held on September 22, 2009 in Toronto.  Art Beyond Walls is an urban "pop-up" gallery hosted by The Village Gallery and gallerist extraordinaire, Alison Goodwin.  The show was very well attended by over 200 people and featured the work of myself, Alison Hodson and Andrew King.  The Village Gallery currently has 8 of my pieces on display in Mississauga, Ontario.  More about The Village Gallery in a moment...

Her Madgesty
acrylic on canvas
48" x 48"

The third piece in my celebrity series is of my favourite musical artist, Madonna.  My history with Madonna goes waaaaaaay back.  I remember listening to "Holiday" in grade 9 at the Etobicoke School of the Arts and wanted so badly to replicate her image even then (man, I loved those rubber bracelets).  In the fourth year of my degree in Visual Arts at UWO, I chose to do my thesis on Madonna, entitled, "Madonna: The Quintessential Icon of our Time".  That was in 1993.

This portrait was a labour of love.  It seems as though I spent months painting Madge's hair alone.  This combination of all my different styles of painting is ridiculously time consuming.  Each of these three portraits took me over 100 hours each to complete.

Getting back to Art Beyond Walls, Alison had her PR firm Lucid Technologies really go to town in promoting the event.  Fashion Television came and interviewed all of us prior to the show starting.  That was one of the penultimate moments of my life, I might add.  I have read every issue of Vogue cover to cover since March 1983--yes, my love of fashion runs as deep as my love of art and celebrity gossip!!!  While FT did not actually choose to run the piece, they did select my painting of Madonna to run in an ad promoting Fashion Television.  The ad states that FT features todays innovators in art, then shows a full screen shot of Her Madgesty.  I almost fell on the floor the first time I saw it!

Alison and her crew from The Village Gallery brought Her Madgesty and one of my abstract pieces to her booth at the Interior Design Show (IDS) in January 2010.  Alison said that so many people approached the booth, recognizing the Madonna painting.  They recognized it either from the FT commercial or when Alison took Her Madgesty and Oh Bama. to a segment she did with Breakfast Television in late October 2009.  Alison works tirelessly to promote her artists and I am forever indebted to her.

The online magazine attended IDS and wrote a review of the artwork there on the site.  The link is  An excerpt from the piece by Alison Brown (seriously, just how many Alison's are there in my life right now????):

Meandering through the myriad of booths and displays at this show my first stop was The Village Gallery.  I was interested to find out about their pop up art program “Art Beyond Walls,” that I had heard about happening across the city. When I found their booth I was immediately attracted to the art of   “Justine Fernie” whose vibrant work stands out among the more traditional art pieces in this show.

I met up with Alison Goodwin, owner of the Village Gallery and Art Beyond Walls, who told me all about their exciting new project. The Village Gallery has their permanent location in Mississauga   where they have been for the past seven years. Art Beyond Walls is their urban pop up gallery. The concept of it is to take the gallery on the road and have unique events in unique places.  Exceptionally talented artists from across North America are brought to Toronto and featured in an exciting venue. Each event will integrate music and performing art for an alternative art buying experience, with proceeds going toward an art related cause. Some of these art happenings are small events like a private dinner party with an artist. They recently did a unique event at a church on Berkeley with 3 artists and 300 guests and donated some work to an art related charity.

This innovative idea gives people the chance to look at art and talk about art in different types of spaces getting away from the traditional gallery space.

Art Beyond Walls started with a small group of artists. And now is expanding with new emerging artists, people who aren’t represented yet by large galleries, giving these artists a chance to expose their work to varied audiences in an unconventional way.  The Interior Design Show  gives The Village gallery the opportunity to meet with designers who will  purchase art for commercial properties.

The next in line in the series is a giant portrait of Sir Elton John and his husband David Furnish.  It is currently drawn on canvas but I haven't had the time to start painting it, due to other painting commissions I have been working on since the fall.  Once I get to it, I've got some big, fabulous ideas for it.  LOTS of gold...


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