Tim Kennedy / Appearances
About half way through the meeting it dawned on me that he was the guy, that he was Ruff – of the sign.  It was a city council meeting. Competent, concerned people seriously discussing parking regulations in a competent, concerned manner – and in exceptionally thorough detail. You might think that an issue like this could not elicit much passion, but factions of the citizenry had turned out on each side. You could say that in the broadest possible sense I came to know Jane through Ruff. Of course, I had seen her in the neighborhood before. On one occasion I noticed that she was distributing literature for a city council candidate outside our polling place at the Free Methodist Church on Election Day. She lives with her family a block diagonally from our house on Lincoln Street. I got to know her a little when I did a painting of her street that included a view of her home. A political sign for candidate Ruff had been planted resolutely in her front yard.
For the past several years an ongoing artistic project of mine has been to paint our house, a Craftsman bungalow on Lincoln Street in Bloomington, Indiana. The project grew to include paintings of the surrounding neighborhood, which follows the original grid of land surveyed for settlement during the early nineteenth century.  A desire to paint my neighbors seemed to grow naturally out these groups of paintings. Jane was one of the first people I thought of asking to pose. When I mentioned it to her she was open to the idea. We worked out a trade for the painting with the Ruff sign in exchange for the time that it would take to sit for the painting, but I have a feeling that she would have been interested in posing anyway.
I suspect that Jane and I are roughly the same age – in our fifties. Rose, Jane’s daughter and a high school student in her teens, was interested in posing as well. One of the things that would be nice about painting them was that they would be a little older and younger than the people I normally paint. I chose a canvas of a size and shape I happened to have that was longer than tall and that I thought would hold the pair of them nicely. They chose a comfortable position on an old couch in our living room. In beginning to work I quickly realized that their figures would be just under life size – which is a good scale to paint features such as hands and heads.
Jane and Rose unconsciously assumed very similar postures as they sat. Having mother and daughter pose was almost like seeing in stereo.  I looked for the family resemblance in each of their faces. We arranged a television just outside of the frame of the composition for them to watch as I painted so I experienced the entire first season of Ugly Betty vicariously. As the painting progressed I came to realize that posing was an occasion for them to spend time with one another that they both enjoyed.  There is a subtle difference in feeling toward sitters for a portrait as opposed to models posing for a figure composition. I was more conscious of imposing on the subject’s time and I found myself working in a more improvisatory manner. I accepted states for the painting that had a less finished feel more easily – I ran with accidental qualities.
Other portraits from this group hold their own stories. I teach with Caleb, who posed with his son Avery, and Malcolm, who posed with his wife LuAnn and their son Owyn. Lauren, a student of mine, posed with her mother Brenda, who owns a photography gallery in town. Ben teaches Russian History at the University and previously owned our house on Lincoln Street. There maybe a bit of voyeurism in the little window I am afforded into people’s lives through portraiture – something of Hitchcock. I have placed myself in the roll of recorder, but I am a believer that poetry lurks in this flat-footed accrual of information.
Tim Kennedy
Bloomington / December 2011