“I feel that when I paint someone from a photo, I’m drawn to their spirit – it’s an intuitive process,” says Oregon-based artist Cindy Sullivan of her photorealistic technique for painting faces. “I get a gnawing feeling and keep coming back to the photo over and over and that’s when I know I need to paint it. I always try my best to capture their essence.” Looking at Cindy’s paintings, there’s certainly a nostalgic presence. Though the surroundings are beautifully depicted, it’s the faces of the people in them that really catch your eye. At once evocative and bizarre, they jump out of Cindy’s paintings with their striking expressions.
After ten years of working in clay and mosaic, Cindy eventually gave it up in 2014 and ventured into the world of painting. “I tried expressive painting in black and white to begin with and really enjoyed it. I desperately wanted to paint in colour, but it intimidated me completely,” she says of this period. “One photo of my husband’s aunts kept poking at me to paint it. I eventually did it on watercolour paper with acrylic and I fell in love.”
These days, Cindy’s reference material hasn’t changed. Still painting from “a box of old photos of relatives”, Cindy will sift through them until one catches her attention. “If I keep coming back to it, I use my imagination and sit with it, and then once in a while I’ll sketch it out in white on a black canvas,” she explains. If she decides to proceed with the photo in question, but isn’t satisfied with the given background, she will begin to think about what sorts of objects and wallpapers would suit the characters. “I always try to listen to my gut, stepping away from the work many times to see if the colours and composition are working in harmony.”
Describing her style as folky and naive, Cindy says she relates to artists who, similarly to herself, have had no formal training: “I love David Park, Justin McCarthy, Otto Dix, Alice Neel and Milton Avery, among many others.” Following in their footsteps, she hopes one day to have at least one of her pieces in a folk art museum, and to exhibit her paintings at The Outsider Art Show in New York. “I recall watching a TV interview with the poet, Mary Oliver, who had an amazing life creating work that people adored… She seemed to live a simple existence doing what she loved and that would suit me perfectly.”
About the Author
Daniel joined It’s Nice That as an editorial assistant in February 2019 and continues to work with us on a freelance basis. He graduated from Kingston University with a degree in Journalism in 2015. He is also co-founder and editor of SWIM, an annual art and photography publication.