FL – When did you decide to relate art with psychology? How important for you is to search for the individual or collective intimacy in modern societies?
PH – For me the psychology has always been inside the art. Even as a young child, whenever I saw portraits of “real” people, I was curious about their stories — who were they? -how and where did they live? -why did someone want a painting of them? As a painter of people, my main interest is in conveying an open-ended and subjective narrative that invites curiosity. Ultimately, I want to capture the feeling and essence of a person more than simply describing in paint what their faces look like.
In most of my paintings, at least one of the subjects is making direct eye contact with the viewer. That visual engagement makes the viewer slow down, connect with someone else, and sometimes, find a moment of empathy. In our current cultural moment, when people spend more time looking at devices than at each other, I think empathy and connection is more important than ever. Art, like literature, can offer a bridge to understanding beyond the self, and beyond the ‘selfie’.
PH – I probably think more about Lucian and Francis than Sigmund, but I was educated with a strong emphasis on the id-ego-superego and Freudian interpretations of literature, so all that theory is locked in my unconscious somewhere;). Artistically, Lucian Freud is one of my heroes, along with
Alice Neel, David Hockney, Kerry James Marshall , and others. From so many years of looking at paintings, I feel like I have a lexicon of images in my brain that surface and resurface with hints, ideas and memories as I work. I never stop learning from these and so many other wonderful artists whose work I have the pleasure of seeing. I’m very lucky to live in New York where I can see great art in real life. As wonderful as Instagram can be for finding images, there’s just no substitute for seeing the genuine article!
FL – Are these paintings a portrait of reality or scenes you saw in past, or imagination?
PH – Generally, my paintings are probably 60% reality-based, and 40% from imagination. I work with real people (mostly friends and family), who generously give me their time and their likenesses. I usually go to a subject’s home to take photos, and we work together collaboratively to come up with interesting poses, trying out a variety of options in different areas of their private spaces. Sometimes I come with a preconceived idea, as in the painting Joe & Joe, where the twin-like couple sit with crossed hands.
Other times, as in “Etruscans”, my subject’s ideas take the lead. In that case, the wife put on her red silk robe and suggested that the couple enact a pose from the effigies on Etruscan tombs, which I absolutely loved.
But in both instances, while the likenesses and the pose remained ‘real’, I completely reinvented the spaces and colors of their surroundings. My most recent piece, titled ‘Penelope’, went in an even more surreal direction, as I focused on the dream-like state I imagined that a modern day Penelope might feel as she waits for the return of Odysseus.
FL – What is your next project about?
PH – I just closed out a show of nudes (‘Underdressed’ at Anna Zorina Gallery in NYC) a few weeks ago, and now I have a chance to begin a whole new body of work. I have many ideas but haven’t yet settled on a firm direction. To spice things up I’m doing some large fast paintings on mylar, which is a very smooth translucent kind of plastic paper. These pieces are close-up seated and standing portraits of other artists, who are so much fun to work with because they’re often very free and unselfconscious… which helps me get right to that feeling I’m always after.