Bates Review: Why portraits?
Elizabeth LaVerghetta: I’ve always been interested in portraiture. I love capturing people likenesses; it’s very rewarding for me. Johnny Cash has a very distinct face, recognized by a lot of people. It noticeably evolved and changed over time.
BR: What’s your favorite song?
EL: “Hung My Head.” It’s kind of an obscure song.
BR: How did you come up with the concept of using cardboard?
EL: I worked with cardboard a little in high school. It is very unexpected material to use. I thought it was interesting, very versatile. What you do to the cardboard can enhance the image itself. I tinkered with the idea of ripped pieces within the image. Professor Nicholetti encouraged me to work with that idea. Johnny Cash had a turbulent life: mainly drugs, alcohol, and a lot of issues throughout his life. Once he married June Carter, later in life, he re-found his faith. He was always influenced by God but his life turned around. There is a noticeable difference in music. He recorded lots of covers later in life, Bird on a Wire, In My Life, Hurt…it reflected his regrets and life, his struggles and journey. He was called The Man in Black, so this collection [of Cash drawings] I entitled “The Man in Black’s Passion,” a play on Christ’s Passion.
BR: What about Sargent?
EL: I’d always loved his sketch work, his charcoal drawings later in life. I was first exposed to him in my drawing class, when I was looking up master drawings. I loved the way he captured the essence of a person, whether it be high-class or a commonplace person. I loved his technique: so free flowing, so fluid in his strokes, but so pinpoint at the same. It was so effortless in such a precise way. It really challenged me to emulate his style.
BR: What is it like to copy these master sketches?
EL: It’s hard to explain. It improved my ability and skill a lot. They’ve basically done all the work for you, in capturing the image they saw. Some people go off on tangents, in assignments, and try and do their own thing. I try to copy it exactly, and it really helped me find my personal style.
BR: You get a feel for proportions of things, and where lines go to be effective.
EL: Exactly. From Sargent, and a couple other master sketches. Rembrandt, Whistler’s prints. The stroke work, its so fluid and effortless. They do it in such a beautiful manner and I wanted to copy it, I mean who wouldn’t. I try to apply it to the images I want to create. Johnny Cash was off that tangent; I was trying to go with my own style. I loved trying to make my style more akin to Sargent’s style. He definitely made my work more precise. If you look through my sketchbook, you can see how “scratchy” my drawings started out and then I graduated to Sargent-esque, if I can say that. My thoughts became more organized in the picture, tone more strategically placed, and lines better done. It’s hard to describe. In my class last semester we did two final copies, and I did two completely opposite Sargent sketches. One was a female nude, very blended and precise. Another was a spontaneous sketch work, done in like ten minutes. It was very difficult to copy because the lines had to be so spontaneous; it was difficult to capture their fluidity. When you do it really slow it doesn’t have the same effect as when you do it very fast.
BR: In doing the Cash ones do you feel you had an understanding of ways to capture the expressiveness, that you built upon or was it a different style?
EL: I pulled definitely from the same mindset as the Sargent portraits. I took what I learned from copying them and applied them to capturing the likeness of Johnny Cash.
BR: Is drawing your main medium?
EL: Yes, I would say so. I did a lot of painting in high school, but I intend to take painting too. I’m also etching right now, which is interesting. Etching is a completely different mindset.
BR: Have you found that dry point helped your drawing at all? To physically create a line. [Dry-point is a method of marking the copper or zinc plate used in printmaking that involves gouging lines into the metal with a sharp stylus made of a harder metal.]
EL: It took me a long time to get a hang of etching. [Laughing] When I put a line on the copper it was never right. I couldn’t erase it. I wasn’t completely happy with my image until the end. I like the lines I can make with the acid better than the dry point, in some respects.
BR: Does drawing allow you to be spontaneous?
EL: I’m not that in nature, though. I’m very meticulous, anal in my strokes. [Laughing]
BR: Even your sketches? They feel so open.
EL: It depends. I’m naturally very detail oriented, especially in painting. I use the finest tip possible. The drawing of Johnny Cash I used the thinnest pencil.
BR: Really? I was going to ask you if doing Johnny, something you were so emotionally connected to and not copying allowed you to loosen up.
EL: I wanted it to be as perfect as possible.
BR: What was it like to copy a photograph and not another sketch?
EL: You have to look abstractly at the picture, in order to differentiate the lines. It’s a mindset. You have to remove yourself from the image and look at it objectively. Not let any subjectivity affect what you’re doing. It’s easier to some extent to copy the Masters; they’ve decided all the lines.
BR: Do you prefer drawing from pictures or from life?
EL: Pictures are a lot easier. Life is challenging.
BR: Life is hard. [Laughing]
EL: I enjoyed figure drawing, but it’s a different style. I hate time constraints.
BR: With pictures its so much more about space relationships, but with life its describing form.
EL: With a picture everything is already in relation to each other. Gesture drawings are fun, but they are incredibly hard.
BR: What would you do if you have a week with no class?
EL: This short term I’m going to take “Building A Studio Practice.” I really want to focus on portraiture, and working with bold colors. I was thinking of doing painting portraits of elderly from this small fishing village where we go in Canada. They’re the foundation of the town. I want to capture their likenesses and immortalize them.
BR: Do you paint mainly portraits?
EL: Yeah, everything I’ve painted has been mainly portraits. A couple landscapes.
BR: Do you like painting portraits more than drawing them?
EL: First I sketch the portrait on the canvas, so I get that aspect. I enjoy painting because it brings the portrait to life. The eyes are a big thing, they turn into someone recognizable. I also like incorporating unexpected colors.
BR: Can you talk about the third color in the Cash portraits, the conté crayon?
EL: I thought sanguine color complemented the brown in the cardboard. I thought it was a little unexpected, a little flavor. Black and white can be boring sometimes.
BR: What was it like to paint the portrait of the oldest Cash, with all the lines in the face?
EL: Its definitely more difficult. You have to take into consideration more shadow, more line. Older people have more distinct facial features I think, they are more expressive. I think you can more easily capture a likeness with a wrinkle in a certain place. I don’t know [Laughing]. Interviews are hard.
BR: You’re great! I think we’re all set.