The 180 degree picture-An Interview by Joe Nalven

Stephanie Goldman was explaining her portrait American Woman to me as her husband Ken Goldman listened in. Stephanie made a remark about her 180-degree picture. I was puzzled. So was Ken. An interesting concept.

What is a 180-degree picture?

*SG:" The provenance of a painting is of great interest to me as a source of inspiration and historical inquiry. What 180 degrees refers to is that some of my portrait work, although initially inspired by historical paintings, adds a contemporary twist in content that places them about 180 degrees away from the historical portrait while still maintaining 180 degrees of similarity.
 Stephanie Goldman / American Woman / 84" x 60"

What is the idea of your 180-degree from Sargent's Madame X?

SG: When reading about John Singer Sargent's Madame X, you find out she was a wealthy American ex-patriot living in Paris. Madame Virginie Amélie Avegno Gautreau (Madame X) was a famous young, celebrated beauty and high society socialite. Sargent originally painted her with a fallen strap challenging the fashion morals of the times and consequently creating a big scandal.

Everything about my painting titled American Woman is 180 degrees apart from this.

Pam Whidden lives in America; she is a professional artist model wearing an off-the-hanger no-name polyester gown. She is not young, famous, rich, or couture beautiful and she is not part of the high society social club.

She is an average, middle class workingwoman wearing a tiara, hand made by a male artist friend.

Instead of a European antique table, her hand rests on a pair of large handmade metal candlesticks that were given to her by an artist friend who owed her money.

Sargent’s painting created a scandal because of the fallen strap, which he later repainted back up on her shoulder. A woman today is free to wear a strapless gown showing off a large bosom and can lift her hem to reveal an ankle, which was unacceptable at the time of Madame X.

The painting, American Woman, instead of being shown at a professional juried guild, was unveiled at a 2008 Athenaeum Student Exhibition to students, family, friends and invited art appreciators. This method of unveiling created its own scandal and buzz in the art community, where Pam regularly models.

Can you tell me about your teaching classes at the Athenaeum?

SG: The Athenaeum asked me to teach over ten years ago and it has been a very worthwhile experience. The creative people I meet through the class have enriched my life in more ways than I could have imagined and I am grateful that my husband, Ken, always encourages me to teach and share. At present I teach Tuesday mornings to a small, limited size class where artists/students come to learn, practice, explore and create artwork that stretches and strengthens them in new and classic directions all by focusing on the static figure.

Portraiture is a compelling place in art. It is so compelling that some places, like hospital waiting rooms, will make a point of keeping people out of their art up on the walls. And most of us have a sense of what we expect in portraits - at weddings, standing in front of a tourist attraction, family stuff. So there is a challenge for an artist to make something other than what is expected, even if it looks like it is expected. Well, that's only my opinion.

What attracts you to portraiture?

SG: Some of my first memories are from seeing small-reproduced classic portraits and paintings and wanting to create like that. As a young girl, I thought only a person who was chosen by G-D was able to make pictures like that by some kind of magic act. I had no idea of anything regarding talent, process, skill, art school or even what the job of an artist was. In 1986 Ken Goldman took me to the Norton Simon in Pasadena, my very first art museum. There we were walking through the Museum and I was crying like a baby. Poor Ken, we had not known each other that long and although he was my art instructor at the time, he had no idea how much it meant to me and had never seen anyone cry in front of paintings before. Since that first experience, I have traveled all over Europe and the US crying my eyes out awed by the feeling that art, especially portraiture, can move the human spirit.

It is funny in a way that we met each other before I knew you were an artist and that you were married to Ken.

SG: Yes. I first got to know you when I was fencing at the Fencing Academy in North Park. Are you still fencing?

 Stephanie Goldman / Fencing Master / 54" x 36"

Fencing is such an awesome sport and I wish it had been part of my youth. As you know, fencing can be hard on the joints. “Foil elbow” forced me to take up saber and then after contracting “saber wrist,” I took up epee. During the summer evenings, I was taking saber lessons from Maestro Buzz and would see him take this classic pose with the blue evening sky framing his silhouette through an open door in the salle. Edwin Hurst (Buzz), is a personality that is unaffected by modern mores and political correctness. Fencers who man-up and take lessons with him know they are in for a ride and will come out the other end not only a better fencer, but also a stronger more solid person.

Sword master paintings have been a recurrent theme in art history, including those light sabers in Star Wars. I felt this was an opportunity to call attention to a stoic personality that required a visual interpretation through a classical portrait.

In painting the Fencing Master, I was inspired by Gari Melcher’s painting of the fencing master garbed for a foil lesson. My painting is the Fencing Master garbed for the Epee lesson where the whole body is target and requires the Master to wear more protective leather gear from head to toe. The painting was unveiled to an appreciative clientele at a special 15-year celebration of the Cabrillo Fencing Academy.
How do you go about creating a portrait?

SG: I use a bottom-up style that allows me to freely create with all of the elements of portraiture - who, how, what, where, when and why? This eliminates the compartmentalization that exists in portraiture today and lets the portrait evolve in a zen-like manner of now-ness by building on intuition, experience, and exchange upon another without the complexities of formal contracts and the like.
Written by
Joe Nalven
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