I get a lot of questions at art shows and online about the meaning behind my work and my painting titled “The Duality of Beauty” is no exception. I painted this artwork about nine or ten years ago using oil paint and this artwork took me roughly two months to finish. Conceptually, I wanted to create in image that represented my thoughts about how we as a species and culture define beauty and how we draw distinct lines between things that we find appealing verses grotesque. In order to do this, I decided that I wanted to paint a model juxtaposed with something commonly thought of as being unappealing, but paint both subjects as gorgeous as possible. I chose to paint Niki Taylor who began her career as a super model in the late 80’s working with Vogue, CoverGirl, L’Oreal, and was named one of People magazine’s 50 most beautiful people in 1991. I really liked the idea of painting Niki Taylor because she is no longer in the limelight when it comes to modeling and I feel that this adds to the concept of my artwork. I also felt uncomfortable painting a more current celebrity because I worried that people would like my artwork based solely on the fact that they might be a fan of the person I painted and the meaning behind the work would be lost.
Once I had decided on the model I was going to paint, my next step was to figure out which subject would be juxtaposed with the model in order to send my message and I needed to resolve how both subjects would interact with one another. The subject that I chose to be placed alongside Niki would need to be something that came from nature, was commonly thought of as being on the opposite end of the spectrum when it comes to defining beauty, but was also something that I found to be beautiful in its own light. I scrolled though Google images for hours on end without a specific idea of what I was looking for when I eventually came across an image of an octopus. The octopus stood out because of its vibrant colors and the way the light shimmered across its skin. Aesthetically, I also really liked the idea of having the tentacles wrap around the model almost as if she is wearing the octopus like clothing. The fact that octopuses have blue blood, are in a way able to shape shift, and seem to be very intelligent, only adds to their appeal as well.
The background of the artwork was chosen primarily for aesthetic reasons; mainly because I wanted to give the subjects an environment and I also wanted carry the color scheme through the entire picture plane. I also wanted to give the artwork the illusion of depth by having the background out of focus, commonly called depth of field in the photography world. As I was painting the background, I allowed the paint to drip in places because I was inspired by other painters who used this approach in their artworks. Since then, I’ve used this same technique in a number of other works because I feel that it gives the artwork more energy and lets the viewer know without a doubt that they are looking at a painting and not a photograph.
Looking at this painting almost ten years later, I definitely see some areas of the work that could be improved. This was one of my earlier portraits, especially at this size (36x36”), and I hadn’t completely grasped the technique of rendering hair yet. I don’t remember the hair taking me too long to paint, and now I realize that was one of the reasons I couldn’t get the textures to look the way I wanted. Hair always takes forever to paint and there really isn’t a way around it, or at least I haven’t found a way. Another issue that I see is that at the time, I was using black to create the shadows of my portraits by mixing it in with the flesh tones. While it’s hard to see on the website, in person, I feel like the painting looks much more flat and has less contrast that some of my latest works. Overall though, I feel like it was a good painting for the time, and I’m happy that it still resonates with people today.