Exhibit to put ‘Best Face Forward’ at Livermore’s Bankhead
By Lou Fancher
From 35,000-year old self-portraits in Indonesian caves to cell phone images rendered with self-enhancing apps, faces are a favorite focus in the history of art and human expression.
Capitalizing and expanding on the human tendency to fixate on and see faces everywhere, “Best Face Forward,” opens Jan. 10 at the Bankhead Theater Gallery in Livermore. The free exhibit in the visitors center and gallery features 75 portraits of people, pets and a specially commissioned triptych created by Walnut Creek artist Judith Kunzlé.
The three-part portrait highlights women arts leaders from the community: Lara Webber, conductor and music director of Livermore-Amador Symphony, Erie Mills, artistic director of Livermore Valley Opera, and Lisa Tromovitch, producing artistic director of the Livermore Shakespeare Festival.
“Best Foot Forward” includes contributions from about 40 artists working ina variety of styles and media. The work of Livermore native Jacob Hankinson, 29, an instructor at Sadie Valeri Atelier in San Francisco, will be on display in the Scott Haggerty Founder’s Room.
Among Hankinson’s classically drawn, black-and-white portraits created primarily with charcoal are “Yearning,” a portrait of a young woman that projects vulnerability. Another image of a bearded, elderly man, displays the amorphous nature of portraiture: the figure is wise, weathered or weary, depending on the viewer’s perspective. Hankinson says people are instinctively attuned to faces and even see them in clouds or toast.
“After decades of interest in abstract art, I can’t say why, but there’s a desire for making art that is a likeness of people around them. My portrait classes always fill up. There’s a desire to capture the human form,” he said.
Hankinson, a largely self-taught artist who is “slowly chipping away to complete” his degree from Academy of Art University in San Francisco, is attracted to unique characteristics when selecting a subject to draw. A Hellenistic profile, a person who looks like they’re from another era or someone who isn’t conventionally beautiful according to pop culture or contemporary society offer challenges he enjoys.
“You can always find a way to discover something aesthetically pleasing,” he said. “The way the shadow and light fall together across the planes of the face, for example.”
Kunzlé’s childhood began in Bern, Switzerland, where her love of art grew to include the human form in motion, landscapes, wildlife, birds, domestic animals and still lifes of plants, fruits and vegetables. Projects she developed while living for 30 years in the South Pacific and during the four years she split her time between homes in Monterey and Hawaii before moving to the Bay Area in 2016 refined her portrait drawing.
For the Best Face exhibit, the work on display features primarily conte pastels, although Kunzlé also works with watercolors, ink, markers and acrylics. Kunzlé, 61, has guidelines for portraiture.
“No photos at all. What I draw, I draw live,” she said. Although she may take a drawing home, hold it in front of a mirror and do minor adjusting, “the emphasis is on spontaneity. The first half hour is when the model and I are fresh. If I keep working, I get more dogmatic. It’s like you scoop the cream off the milk, and then you must stop. It’s a mood that mixes into the drawing.”
Impressed with the intelligence and go-getter energy of the three Tri-Valley women, Kunzlé relaxed into her 30-minute — or no-more-than-60 minute — process. “If you want the spark of life, you must be vis-a-vis,” she says.
Of course, there are years of practice and even now, she draws a self-portrait every day.
“With the time limit, I have very little control. I look in the mirror. Each time you don’t know what you are going to get. The expression can be different each day. I don’t have time to design, contemplate, plan.”
Drawing proportionately comes from decades of experience. Working “without a recipe” keeps her mind from interfering; her eyes open to the person she is drawing. Capturing the essence as much as the likeness of a person is essential but never guaranteed. That, in the end, is the allure that keeps Kunzlé, Hankinson and other artists, whether professionals or hobbyists, coming back to faces.