Recently I was going through some old model photos looking for painting ideas. I came across the photos from a session with Anthony C. back in the early 1990s. Anthony was a beautiful Chinese-Thai-Portuguese dancer from Macao who was visiting Honolulu at the time. I met him and asked him to model, and we did a photo session in the apartment of a friend of mine.
One of the photos showed him seated lotus-style on the living-room carpet, cradling some bananas in his hands. That photograph was so striking I used it in a 1993 painting I did called Fountain of Youth. That’s still one of my favorite paintings.
I thought it would be interesting to reinterpret the same basic idea 20-plus years later. In Fountain of Youth, I invented a tropical background. For the new version, I found a photograph I took a few months ago near my Puerto Vallarta home, in a little beach town called Boca de Tomatlán. Using Photoshop, I lifted Anthony from the Honolulu living-room photo and placed him right in front of the tropical foliage of Mexico. That would be my source image for the new painting.
I had chosen the background shot just because i liked the shapes of the leaves and it looked like Anthony would fit into the image well. It wasn’t until I actually began working on the painting that I realized I was placing Anthony and his bananas right in front of a grove of banana plants. No wonder it looked so good.
I did quite a few drawings of the figure to prepare for the painting. I like the figure in the previous painting from 1993, but I like the loose, animated feel of the new figure even better (my figure drawing is a lot more fluid than it was in 1993). I also did a few drawings of the banana-leaf forest background, but that didn’t take as much work—the banana leaves are such beautiful, fun-to-draw shapes it didn’t take long for me to get to a treatment that I liked. Next step was to draw it on the canvas in pencil. I followed that with outlining the major shapes with a black acrylic marker. Finally I put a purplish-brownish wash over everything and let it dry. While it dried, I started mixing colors.
Some paintings are a breeze because everything just falls into place. There are little magic moments from the very start, and you feel like the gods are with you.
This was NOT one of those paintings.
Although I loved the look and feel of the painting right from the first sketches, once I started painting it was a bit like pulling teeth. Everything was working okay, but there were no happy accidents. It was just plugging along, gradually refining each area of the painting.
Nevertheless I persevered. I knew this could be a terrific painting, and I knew I could pull it off. This is one of the benefits of having been painting all these years: I know I have the chops to pull off even a difficult painting.
It took 4 days of working many hours each day, but the painting gradually came together. I’m glad it’s over. I’ve entitled the new painting Bananas, and that’s what it almost drove me. But the struggle was worth it!
IN-PROGRESS PAINTING VIDEO: My friend John Webster was visiting my Puerto Vallarta studio while I was working on Bananas, and put together a video showing me doing the preliminary drawings and working on the painting itself. It’s about 5 minutes long, and you can view it here.