Hope Cunningham Fine Art

To view more of my work, please visit www.hopecunningham.com

Monday, September 23, 2013

Big Sister

Childhood's last gasp. This sweet girl is the older sister of the little boy in my last post. I love her unselfconsciously cheerful expression. When I look at her, I am reminded of my own daughter just before she started middle school and everything about her changed so fast it took my breath away. These years when a mother can keep her child close are so special. Soon hanging out with her schoolmates will replace emulating Mom. We all have to let go and allow them to explore the world and discover themselves but the years when they stay close are magic.

This puts me in mind of a poem by Lebanese American poet and artist Kahlil Gibran that I kept on my refrigerator door for years while my children were young. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.


And a woman who held a babe against her bosom said, 'Speak to us of Children.'
And he said:
Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you, yet they belong not to you.
You may give them your love but not your thoughts.
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.
You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite, and He bends you with His might that His
arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer's hand be for gladness;
For even as he loves the arrow that flies, so He loves also the bow that is stable.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Wet Paint

Wet Paint 14X11

She's baack...
After quite a hiatus, know. Unfortunately, I got miserably sick just before I left South Carolina. It was a nasty bug that held on for weeks. Mix in a family crisis and preparations for a trip down under and my work had to go on the back burner for a while.

Luckily for me, my coughing abated just in time for me to depart with my husband for (an uninsured) three week stay in Australia.

Sounds relaxing, no?

Absolutely not! We went careening from one place and activity to the next. I relapsed and had to go to a doctor but I managed to keep up. Climbed the Sydney Harbour bridge, toured the city, met with friends, flew to Ayers Rock, lots of hikes and tours, on to Port Douglass, went spear fishing, stuck my fingers in a sting ray's eye sockets, toured rainforest with locals, developed an appreciation for aboriginal culture, sunset sailing and off to far North Queensland and Lizard Island. Fantastic! Went snorkeling (first time) on the Great Barrier Reef. Back to Port Douglass and on to Melbourne followed by drive to Lorne. Hiking and lots of it, waterfalls, glow worms, tree ferns, koalas, kangaroos, platypus, cockatoos and very charming kukaberra that like to be hand fed "mince". Back to Melbourne, mad dash through Museum to see "Monet's Gardens" exhibit, pick up rental car, fight with husband over sticking to itinerary, prevailed and went to see "Australian Impressionists in France". Fabulous exhibit. Drive Great Ocean Road all the way to Port Fairy, stopping for every well marked photo op. Back to Sydney to finish with "La Traviata" at Opera House.....oh, and I had my nails done.

My husband and I enjoyed three weeks of uninterrupted togetherness in nine different beds, took eight total flights and one really long drive....on the left side of the road. Based on my husband's success at staying in the proper lane I began to wonder if he hadn't recently taken out a very large life insurance policy in the event of my untimely demise. Good stuff.

Seriously, it was the trip of a lifetime, just not restful. Oh, by the way, the food and wine were so wonderful that I grew at least one pants size and blew out my Spanx.

So I'm back in Tucson. Let's just say it took me a while to recuperate. Good news is I am painting again and have the photos to prove it!

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

So, Tell Me What's Going On

So, Tell Me What's Going On  14X11 Original Oil on Panel

This is Tom Pettus. He is married to Cecily, from my previous post. When Tom walked in to my studio, something about his quiet relaxed manner immediately put me at ease. Generally when I meet a new person I find myself doing a lot more listening than talking. Not so with Tom. He was so thoughtful and interested that he drew me out effortlessly. Tom is a doctor of internal medicine who actually makes house calls to geriatric patients who have difficulty getting out. No doubt every one of them looks forward to his visits. He is a very innovative and caring physician who understands the art of listening. It was my pleasure to make his acquaintance.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013


Cecily 14X11 Original Oil on Panel

Cecily in the studio

Today I am posting a painting that I do not consider successful at capturing a likeness of the sitter. I am inviting feedback, so don't feel the need to hold back. There are a lot of things I do like about the  painting; the color composition and brushwork are fresh. What doesn't work in the painting results from my attempts to flatter the model according to my personal aesthetic, losing my grasp of the gesture and not trusting my eyes.

With regard to my personal aesthetic, I am learning that my love for the face in repose is not shared by many consumers of art. All those years spent in life studies in the studio created an appreciation for quiet, reflective gestures in my models. However, as I have mentioned before, the most frequent criticism I get from folks in the studio is, I love it but she looks sad. Personally I cherish my contemplative nature and find myself often turned inward, enjoying my relationship with my Self. Many people, I am learning, do not want to be represented to the world in this way. They want to be viewed as happy and engaged with their surroundings.

My inner jury is out on this point but the issue did underscore my reluctance to paint the ever elusive movements of the mouth. I knew I had to confront this challenge before I could decide if I truly wanted to focus on more prosaic portraits. Dewees Island is certainly providing ample opportunity for learning about painting the gestures of the mouth.

In terms of losing my gestural intention, comparison of the painting and photo makes evident my tendency to turn the face toward a full forward perspective rather than adhering to a 3/4 perspective. The differences are small, but it doesn't take much to lose a likeness or result in a skewed perspective. It's easy to see where cubists got the inspiration to paint the portrait from several different perspectives at once.

Which all culminates in the error of not trusting what I saw. When I was painting the mouth, it just seemed impossibly wide and off center, so I adjusted it to make it appear more symmetrical and less toothy. Big mistake! The asymmetry that I saw was my brain hitting me over the head saying "Perspective Dummy! Its a 3/4 view!" But did I listen? No. We all have very strong cognitive schema that have the potential to sabotoge our drawing skills. Those schema demand a full frontal view. Had I trusted my eyes and not let my personal aesthetic interfere, I would have ended up with a much more honest and accurate (and succesful!) portrait.

Perhaps I will paint it again.......

Sunday, July 28, 2013

The Princess

The Princess Original 14X11 Oil Painting

This is my dear friend Marion Cotton. We met nearly twenty years ago in Charleston. She and her husband, Peter, have had a big influence on our lives ever since. Peter and Marion were witnesses at our, oh so illegal, wedding in Santorini, Greece which was probably the most magical and romantic night of my life. (John and I were made legal by the receptionist in my office when we returned to Charleston. She was a notary public). I know that my marriage to John often feels like a fairy tale come true. Must be the same for Peter and Marion because he has made sure that everyone knows her as "Princess".

She inhabits the role with aplomb. I wanted to paint her with a tiara and Peter actually bought her one. No offense, Peter, but it was much too modest. I envisioned one of blinding brilliance that would inhabit half of the panel. Maybe another time. As it was, the most beautiful thing about Marion's pose was the graceful gesture of her head and neck. Marion always wears lots of jewelry; taking off the rope of pearls she was wearing made her feel naked but she was game. Just one more example of how folks actually drop their personae when sitting for a portrait. I think removing the jewelry only made her shine brighter.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Arrie B. Too

Arrie B. Too 14X11 Original Oil on Panel

If you have been following my blog for a while, you may remember the paintings I posted on March 13th of Arrie B and Holly Mack, two of the Cotton's grandchildren. Both of those paintings were painted alla prima from the posing model. Arrie B. had a hard time posing and the sitting was frustrating for both of us. I decided that I could do a better job, so I did another alla prima painting using the photograph and original painting for reference. This one is a much better likeness. I may have relied on photographs but the end result says a lot more about this charming little lady.

As I progress through this project, I feel that my paintings are getting better and I am learning from every attempt. The challenge now is that I find myself wanting to repaint several of the portraits. I know this will add a considerable amount of work to the project but I think I will happier with the results. My work is no longer about each individual painting, but about the entire body of work that will be in the "Portrait of Dewees" book. I am also planning on adding a few landscape and wildlife paintings.

It's a big project but I am thoroughly enjoying it. Just like an individual painting, one of the hardest things is knowing when to stop!

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Instant Glamour

Instant Glamour 14X11 Original Oil on Panel

Caroline Smith radiates a poised and elegant aura. From the first time I saw her I was charmed and curious about who was behind those shades. When she agreed to sit for me, she scheduled an early morning appointment and came in feeling a bit unenthusiastic about having her portrait painted. We tried her in lots of different poses and lighting, with her eyeglasses on and without them. It wasn't until she said that no one would recognize her without her shades that we decided to try posing with her sunglasses on.

She lit up like a hundred watt bulb.

Since she felt so much more comfortable this way, we ran with it. In truth, I am sure its a better likeness because she felt so much more relaxed.

Don't think for a minute that she was hiding out behind those shades. We spent the morning getting to know each other and found that we shared and early and abiding interest in art, psychology and social work. Both of us trained as artists and then as Social Workers. We both engaged in social work early in our careers and eventually returned to creative endeavors. Caroline is an talented and sought after Interior Designer.

What we, and many other women on Dewees, also share is being middle aged.  We tend to maintain a self image based on our youthful looks. Being photographed or painted confronts us with a different reality. What most of us don't seem to realize is that beauty still radiates. Other people see it every day, but we are so hard on our selves. I knew this about myself; it was a surprise to find it others whom I admire so much.

This feeling is not unique to women. Jack Nicholson once said "With my sunglasses on, I'm Jack Nicholson, without them I'm fat and 60."

I get it.

I wear great big glamorous sunglasses when I go out, too.  When I look in the mirror, I don't wear any glasses at all, because without vision "correction" I think I look thirty and beautiful. Makes me just as happy as the shades. Seems like I'm in very good company on this one.

The most wonderful thing about this project has been the opportunity get a glimpse into others' internal lives. I often feel different, apart, from other people. When I attend to a model in the studio I find that the more I listen, the more I learn how similar we all are. I find myself strengthened, encouraged, and affirmed by these shared experiences.

This is what happens when you take time to really see another person.