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The Art of Community

One of the first articles I wrote for the Portrait Society Journal featured Ellen Moore, a long-time member and artist who currently lives in Texas. In addition to commissioned work, she was volunteering her time and talent to create portraits of women that were living at a refuge house for abused women. These women, displaced from their homes and feeling overpowered, came to see themselves differently through Ellen’s artistic interpretation of them. Today, she continues to donate her time with what she calls “Painting with a Purpose.” Ellen has been volunteering to paint portraits of fallen soldiers that were in the Iraq-Afghanistan war whose families live in Texas. She has also been painting the portraits of children who are hoping to be adopted.

Gregory Mortenson was inspired to paint a series of portraits after visiting Haiti with his wife and a group of friends to help re-build an orphanage after the earthquake of 2010. Arriving in Haiti and driving to Port-au-Prince, he saw devastation and depression everywhere. Imagining what he would find at the orphanage, he was surprised to discover a haven of hope. Even though many of the children had lost their birth families or were displaced through other circumstances, the place was filled with laughter and a feeling of hope. Even though they had suffered much loss, they had created a much larger family within the orphanage and each other. It was what Greg calls “the triumph of the human spirit,” and he was inspired to capture that in his paintings. After a second trip to Haiti, Greg put together 15 paintings that became an exhibition called “Zion’s Children” with a portion of the sales benefiting the Hope for Life Children’s Home.

Gregory Mortenson, Homework, oil, 36x28"

Another member of the Portrait Society and 2017 Grand Prize winner, David Kassan, is currently working on The Edut Project. Its mission is to ‘creatively share Shoah survivor’s inspiring lives in paint and film.’ An interactive exhibition planned for the Spring of 2019 at the Fisher Museum of Los Angeles will capture and tell Holocaust survivors’ stories through Kassan’s paintings as well as written profiles and film interviews of living witnesses to the Shoah. Working on a series of individual paintings of survivors in January 2017, David decided to take this current series of paintings to the next level and create life-sized representations of eleven survivors of Auschwitz in one painting. The final painting will be 18 feet long and 8 feet high. David’s connection and commitment to the project is personal; his grandfather immigrated to the United States in 1917, escaping ethnic cleansing on the border of Ukraine and Romania by the Cossacks. Since David sees painting as his way of understanding the world around him, this project has been a personal way of connecting to his grandfather’s story. David says, “These paintings represent the perseverance and the strength of the human spirit. I endeavor to respect and show the dignity of each survivor and tell his or her story.”

David Kassan working on The Edut Project

Paintings of people tell a story, whether its honoring history, finding joy in unusual places, or painting people so others see them in a new light – it’s all storytelling. I hope that our members feel a connection with each other through the sharing other’s stories through their art.

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