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Idiosyncrasies and Mood Are What Influences the Portrait

Amy Wright: You have an incredible talent for capturing human expression in portraits. When did you realize you could read faces so well?

David Iacovazzi-Pau: Thank you for the flattering question but I don’t recall a particular moment. I find painting people exciting; however, there are some I want to paint and some that I don’t. I can’t explain why.

AW: Who was the first person to recognize or encourage your work, and what form did that take?

DI: It was one of my teachers when I was about eight, I believe. She presented my drawings to my parents and suggested to them that I pursue it. A few years later my mother found an art school in Belgium which I attended until I was nineteen. Later, in 1997, I came to the United States and continued my education at IUS.

AW: Who are some of the artists whose work you admire and why?

DI: There are many, such as David Hockney and Gerhard Richter, because they continue to take a new approach to painting and are not afraid to change direction. Lucian Freud I value for his crude and honest depiction of the human body. I never get tired of looking at Francis Bacon’s work. Rauschenberg, Hopper, Delacroix, Gauguin and the list goes on. There’s also Rembrandt for his keen eye. A painting that had a lasting impression on me was “Le radeau de la Meduse” by Théodore Géricault, which is his magnum opus at Le Louvre. It has a mountain of corpses mingling with the living, and was a scandal at the time for many reasons.

AW: Scandal can take many forms. Are there standards or traditions you rebel against, or risks you seek out with your work?

DI: I don’t see myself as a traditionalist even though I was trained in that manner. It’s a dichotomy because I embrace standards and yet I enjoy breaking them in order to push it further. But I’m not looking to make a picture-perfect painting. Edgar Allan Poe said: “There is no exquisite beauty without some strangeness in the proportion.”

I believe you have to take risks when you paint, especially with portraits because it’s been done for a very long time. The oldest one discovered in a cave is over 25,000 years old, near Angoulême I believe, so we had plenty of time to work on the subject!

I’m not terribly afraid of “losing” a painting. As a matter of fact, I’ve often painted over something that I wasn’t satisfied with. If it works, it works, if it doesn’t I move on to the next one, conscious of the mistakes I did on the previous work.

To be technical about your question, I use different tools and don’t rely solely on paint brushes. I sometimes use pieces of a cut up dustpan, rags or dry pigments, among other things. I also keep the composition as simple as possible on my portraits because I want the viewer’s eyes to lock in on the person and not be distracted by other forms. It’s important to keep the interaction very direct.

AW: I appreciate using various media to maintain direct interaction with your composition. Many of the musicians I admire also use nontraditional instruments. Your subjects are often artists, musicians, sculptors, etc. Is your choice of tools inspired or determined by your relationship to their work?

DI: Not at all.

AW: Do your subjects’ works of art influence your portraits? If so, how?

DI: Yes, they do. How is a difficult question to answer because we all differ in personality and emanate a uniqueness about ourselves. These varied aspects are some of the traits I want to portray. Not all of the people I paint are artists. I do portraits of people with all kinds of professions and backgrounds. If it happens that he or she is an artist whose work I appreciate, it can add interest. However, the individual idiosyncrasies and mood are what influences the portrait.

At this moment I’m in the process of painting Will Oldham, who graciously consented to be my subject. Although I enjoy his music tremendously, it’s his face that inspires me to paint him. In my opinion, he’s an exceptional singer-lyricist and melodist, plus some of his features remind me of a young Paul Verlaine.

AW: I love that comparison of Bonny Prince Billy to the great French poet. For the moment, I can see Oldham’s line: “She wore no shoes and ate like a leopard” set beside Verlaine’s, “Ankles sometimes glimmered to please us.” Sure. But, to return to your inspiration—you say faces compel you. I’m most struck by your portraits’ eyes. They abound with such life! Is that how you know when a painting is finished—when your subject looks back at you?

DI: It depends; sometimes I stop working when my intuition tells me it’s finished, and other times, at a certain point, I let it be. Otherwise I could continue working on it indefinitely. The paintings look best when they maintain a freshness and vitality, so I try not to overwork it.

AW: If you could ask anything of your viewers, what would you want them to perceive about your work? Are there any questions you hope they ask?

DI: What’s important is that the work has an impact on the viewer. Hopefully they’ll get a glimpse of the subject’s ephemeral nature. It’s about how I perceive them to be in a fleeting moment and capturing it. I don’t pretend to know them fully; that’s the reason I only use the person’s first name for the title. 


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