NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - When artist Daniel Duffy accepted a contract to paint five massive portraits of senior U.S. bureaucrats in eight weeks his colleagues thought he was mad.
Demand for painted portraits has risen in recent years with the genre enjoying a revival, but it usually takes from one to six months to complete a large portrait so the timing of the contract from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) was unusual.
“I just dropped all my other work and knew I would be working 18 hours a day, seven days a week,” Duffy, who is based in Newtown, Connecticut, told Reuters.
“It was a shock for a lot of people and a lot of artists ran scared. I am just exhausted but it has been a real pleasure. I learned a lot from this experience and it has made me a more efficient painter.”
Working to the tight deadline, Duffy has managed to work from photographs to complete portraits of five HUD secretaries -- the current Secretary Alphonso Jackson and predecessors Jack Kemp, Henry Cisneros, Andrew Cuomo and Mel Martinez.
Duffy is one of a growing number of artists dedicated to portrait painting, charging up to $25,000 for a large painting with the total value of the HUD contract $100,000.
Portrait paintings fell from fashion in the middle of the last century as interest in abstract and non-figurative art grew but the genre is back in vogue, according to art organizations including Britain’s The Royal Society of Portrait Painters.
Families, as well as corporations and institutions, have started to commission portraits, leading to a rise in the number of small painting businesses, and portrait work by contemporary painters like David Hockney and Lucian Freud.
Duffy, 46, who is Yale University’s most commissioned painter, attributed the popularity of portraits to their timelessness.
“Portraits have a timeless quality whether they be of HUD secretaries, the Mona Lisa or Whistler’s Mother,” he said.
Duffy was not told why the deadline was tight but believed it could be related to the opening of a new HUD auditorium as this would complete the series of portraits of HUD chiefs.
But he was not bothered by not meeting his subjects.
“I know these individuals because I’ve seen them over the last 25 years doing different things. I’ve seen them talk and move and that helps give you a feel of them,” he said.
He is due to meet the secretaries in Washington D.C. on October 27 to present the framed paintings.
“I think I did OK on these and I am really happy with the outcome. I look forward to meeting with the secretaries and seeing their reaction,” he said.
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