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Letty's Blog
Blog / News - Wednesday - Jul 11, 2012
Tony Caramanico oil on canvas 56x54
Outside Nowak's studio in Sag Harbor
Nowak held studios in North Haven, Sag Harbor and Montauk for over 6 consecutive summers. She spent her time up north visiting galleries, going to openings, and spending time with friends in the city. Nowak became attuned with the community and lifestyle of Long Island ( The Hamptons), while staying in Sag Harbor in August of 2009 she was interviewed by Richard J. Goldstein about her upcoming show in New York City, her unique style of portraiture, and her famed Faces of Key West collection.

Letty Nowak | Richard J. Goldstein

Richard J. Goldstein: How do you go about selecting who you want to paint?

Letty Nowak: It depends on what I am trying to accomplish. If the painting is not in a series, and just for me, it is mostly on how someone looks and/or if they have a deeper impact on my life. There are a few people I have painted multiple times based on this. I tend to be attracted to people with distinct features or who may be a little older because of the different planes that make up their face. If it is in a series, such as the Faces of Key West—I tried to get an interesting group from the Mayor to bartenders, sometimes I knew they would just make a good painting based on their looks. There were others I couldn't pass up due to their role in the Key West community, like the man who makes his living doing tricks with his pet cats.

RJG: What part of the community do you turn to for subject matter?

LN: I think I just answered that. It is every part. For me, everyone has a story.

RJG: Have you been painting the people from the community in Long Island as you have done in Key West?

LN: Not to the extent that I did in Key West. The Key West project was pretty focused and in depth. Long Island is much larger, and I feel I would need to spend a little more time here—all of my time here is mostly spent in the Hamptons so it does simplify it a little more. That's not to say that I haven't painted people from L.I. I have photographed a number of people, and one of my favorite paintings is someone from Montauk, Tony Caramanico.

RJG: What have you found that distinguishes the individuals in Long Island from those in Key West?

LN: I am inspired from the people in L.I. (the Hamptons). People seemed to be balanced and do a lot with their lives from success in their businesses to being active. Most seem to have an edge to them as well—I love being in line at the East Hampton post office. For some reason I see a lot of “characters” there, like in Key West but with Blackberry's. There are many artists who I admire here as well. Key West is just a different world. It's a melting pot of people from all over the world and from all walks of life. I teach a lot in Key West and learn a lot from the Hamptons...does that make sense? Maybe it's because I just haven't spent enough time in L.I. yet.

RJG: How is their sense of community similar or different from each other?

LN: There seems to be a bigger sense of community in Key West. Although, it is smaller there.

RJG: From your Faces series to your gallery “lock-in’s,” community is central to your work. How do you situate the role of the artist within the community? What service or duties should the artist be providing?

LN: My first few years in Key West my role in the community was large—more than I anticipated. I got to know many people through painting their portrait, which immediately gave us a closer dynamic. From there I opened the Lemonade Stand Art Studio where I taught hundreds of people painting and used the space to it's maximum potential by inviting even the most established local artists in to paint in my space during the Lock-In's. Artists who only knew each other through their work now had the chance to interact
personally in a studio situation. Friendships were formed—really cool to see. I held numerous openings, which usually drew a large crowd of people new to art and long-time collectors. It was a very welcoming environment. I think artists can take a role like that in the community or remain elusive. I don't think there are any services or duties an artist should provide; that is up to them to be involved in the community or not. Sometimes artists are very private and all of their energy is put into their own work. I can understand both roles. I feel fortunate to have the role that I do in the Key West community, but I did have to make the choice to slow down my efforts with others to start painting more for myself.

RJG: The sitting must be a really intimate time between you and your model. Are most people open to being painted? How does the dynamic usually go with you both getting comfortable with each other and letting down your guard?

LN: Most people are interested in being painted. Some prefer to sit and others have me take photos due to time issues. I have had great experiences with those who have sat for a portrait. There is an energy between them and myself that grows as the painting develops. That is probably because we have talked for hours while I paint.

RJG: Is there a decisive moment when you feel you capture someone’s essence?

LN: Yes.

RJG: To me your paintings are a hundred percent the personality of the subject, but it’s also apparent the formal does play a big part in your work too. How do you use the qualities of paint and painting as a bridge to the qualities of the sitter?

LN: That is the question. How do I make it mostly about a painting and keep the essence of the subject? The medium of oil paint? I ask myself that in every painting. I try to keep the paintings as simple as I can bringing in only what I feel is necessary to make it a strong painting. I also try to keep my colors clean and rich. I can feel it when the painting has come far enough to have captured the person.

RJG: Hal had let me know that you prefer to consider the paintings as faces and not portraits. This sounds really interesting, and I'm wondering how you go about making the distinction and how that affects your process.

LN :This is just my interpretation of the difference between painting a "face" and a "portrait.” Painting someone's "portrait" to me seems relatively boring. Just a copy of the person. Trying to capture them accurately in the moment. Almost making the subject become more important than the actual act of painting. When I think of painting "faces," it feels like it takes the act of copying the person out more and making it my own image. I still try to keep it accurate, as it's part of the challenge, but just not a stale copy.

RJG: Does "face" imply the paintings are more objective than subjective . . . perhaps less narrative than a

LN: Yes, a "face" does to me imply more objectivity than subjectivity. That is a really good way to put it, and I haven't thought of it in those words. I don't know about less narrative. I feel the marks and color can give it a new narration of it's own.

RJG: Just a thought: It's interesting in this difference between face and portrait that a face is dynamic, it can change expression and age, while a portrait is static and meant to fix the subject in time. In painting the paintings as "faces," do you see yourself re-visioning portraiture?

LN: As I have been finishing my most recent work, it almost sits uncomfortable with me because to me, they do not feel settling and easy. My goal is not to glamorize any of my subjects but rather to show them for what makes up their faces and let the light bring it out—planes, color, creases. It's almost a landscape of sorts. So yes, I have revisioned portraiture for myself.