Professors discover people in the portrait gallery
Hillsdale now has its own ‘Mona Lisa’, according to a viewer who saw a Caroline Greb ’21 painting hanging in the Daughtrey Gallery.
The painting is part of an exhibit by assistant professor of art Julio Suarez and visiting assistant professor of art Roxanne Kaufman. Focusing on portraiture, the exhibition will feature Suarez’s paintings and Kaufman’s photographs in the Daughtrey Gallery until March 30. The idea for the exhibition was born in 2020, out of a mutual appreciation for portraits, Suarez said.
Suarez said he normally prefers working with models in person, but when the pandemic hit he was forced to consider other options.
“A lot of the work is done from photographs and I just wanted to see if I could enjoy the process and bring something to it. And I did,” Suarez said. You have to be flexible and sometimes good things happen when you have limitations and challenges.
The paintings feature many of Suarez’s students who graduated last year and were with Suarez throughout his teaching career at Hillsdale.
“It’s really important to paint what you know and what surrounds you, and these days what surrounds me are my students,” Suarez said. “These students, for the most part, were my first class where we were together for four years. It meant a lot to me.
One of Suarez’s favorite paintings on display is called ‘The Patriot’ and depicts his stepfather relaxing in his garden.
“You spend so much time with someone, you know what they’re like more than just in a photographic way,” Suarez said. “To succeed in portraiture, you have to be interested in people. There must be a link there. It can’t just be this cold process.
Another series of his portraits is that of Greb, who was one of Suarez’s art students. Because she lives in Hillsdale, she was available to take pictures with Suarez.
“I was 5 or 6 months pregnant with my daughter, so I walked in and there were lights and everything,” Greb said. “He poses you, sits you down and takes pictures to paint. It was like our usual conversations as we went, talking about everything from art to the housing market.
Greb said Suarez’s portraits of her capture many details that are unique to her, such as a pair of jewelry she wears frequently.
“I could see it really captured the spirit of my personality,” Greb said. “The bigger painting of the two, someone commented that I looked rather skeptical. He had a funny comeback because he had me in class for four years and knows I can be a little sassy. It makes me feel really known to him.
Now that her portrait has hung in the Daughtrey Gallery for a few weeks, Greb said she has received several comments. A person approached her at church and said that Greb’s husband should buy a portrait to have as a family heirloom.
“I was at the opening of the gallery and I heard that someone called it the ‘Mona Lisa’ of Hillsdale. It was kind of a funny comment that made me laugh,” Greb said. “I hope that somehow one of his paintings will one day end up in my house, because I would really treasure that.”
Kaufman’s photography, like Suarez’s, also focuses on the human connection. While her photo shoots can last up to several hours, the shooting process can take as little as 10 minutes, she said.
“I want my portraits to be more about the person and the moment we shared than just taking a picture of someone,” Kaufman said. “Because we do this all the time with ourselves. I have the impression that we live too much behind a camera. We still want things to be filmed and photographed to remember, but we don’t actually embrace and soak in the majority of moments just with our own eyes.
The photographs capture tiny details that might normally go unnoticed, Kaufman said.
“Professor Bushey came over and she said, ‘I didn’t even notice he was missing two fingers on his hand and he had a tattoo that said ‘oops’ on it,'” Kaufman said. “I try to photograph people so it’s not super obvious, but it would be like hanging out with them, so to speak.”
Kaufman said she values the relationships she forms during each photo shoot as much as the photos she takes.
“I love all people, all shapes, sizes, personalities, interests,” Kaufman said. “I don’t mind if they’re a little grumpy or shy.”
His favorite portrait from this show is that of his son, Brogan, which appears on some of the posters advertising the show. She took the photo when she and her son were at his parents’ horse farm.
“He was digging a hole in one of the barns because Grandpa said he could, and I told him it was time to fill it up. He just turned and looked at me, and it was like a divine moment that I had that,” Kaufman said. “It was priceless. I had a feeling this would be a great greeting card image. As a mom photographer, I don’t get those perfect moments all the time.
Kaufman said she hopes those who visit the gallery feel drawn to the subjects of her photos.
“It’s always been that people find beauty, entertainment, joy, just by well-photographed portraits of ordinary people,” Kaufman said. “If I’m connected to the people I photograph, that connection goes through the lens.”