At first glance, it is just a spotlessly executed copy of 17th century Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer’s famous painting ‘Meisje met de parel’, but the winning entry in the ‘painting’ category at last Spring Art Competition features a cheeky twist that is an acute sociological observation on the contemporary obsession with portrait or better said, self-portrait.
‘Pearlception’ first tickles the viewer’s curiosity with the perfect texturing of the girl’s headscarf and rendering of the time-built patina effect to mirror the original, but a surreptitious glimpse to the bottom left corner of the painting is enough to notice there’s plenty more going on. A freak anachronism actually, as the girl’s slender hand props up an equally slender smartphone whose screen features nothing less that her freshly snapped selfie!
Painter Patricia ‘Pat’ Lombard effortlessly rises to the double challenge of mimicking another artist’s style in two different versions, a painting within a painting, one faithful to the original size and the second miniaturised and titled to the angle the screen makes with the main viewpoint, so achieving the result of having the onlooker let out a gasp of amused surprise.
Pat tells how the idea came about: she wanted to use a classic masterpiece to convey her concerns on misuse and abuse of modern technology and the irony of hedonism in modern life, so she browsed art history books for the right subject. Mona Lisa is a popular one, herself abused in all kind of memes, artistically and otherwise, and Pat reckoned she had to resort to another instantly recognisable icon, as she recalled a ‘doctored’ copy of Leonardo’s masterpiece being already shown in a recent local exhibition.
Having selected the ‘Girl’, the next step was deciding what gizmo would carry the most effective symbolism of modern-day idiosyncrasy. She devised that big chunky headphones would be a must-have for a girl her age, then she realised they challenged the very essence of the painting as they would block her pearl earring, and, because of the slanted point of view, Pat couldn’t draw a headset resting around her neck, because the headphones would be partially hidden by her neck. The alternative was the one gadget that teenage girls never leave the house without: a smartphone.
Pat says she exited her comfort zone with this work, not just because she faced the challenge of crafting a true copy of a popular Master, but also for drawing from scratch a delicate hand consistent with the original style and colours, and wrapping it around the anachronistic centre point, yet she rose above it and delivered what perhaps is the first ever prized meme to belong in a Gibraltarian art gallery.
She describes herself as a traditional and realistic painter, a stickler for detail and a true believer that good things come in small packages. This painting is relatively small, because the original is too, but she usually shuns large and loud abstracts to purposely stride down the well-trodden path of quaint landscapes and true-to-life portraiture, with a penchant for animals: from an old painting of hers for example, two basset-hounds peer at you with puppy dog eyes, and almost wag their tails.
Far from being ‘boring’ and un-innovative, Pat explores with contemporary eyes the labyrinth of art imitating nature, with a keen interest for ‘drama’ as she calls it, namely the contrasts of hues, within an item of the composition, especially the skies, where she enjoys building up layers of billowing rain-laden dark cloud as a scalloped background to iconic cityscapes, like London’s Tower Bridge, bathed in the cold apocalyptic sallow light that escapes the heavy heavenly curtains.
The quiet after the storm is elegantly captured in her rural landscapes, where greenery and bursting blooms festoon the whitewashed sunbathed walls, and the light is paradisiacal without indulging in the kind of dazzling clarity of the midday heat that is often too dear to painters of Mediterranean subject matters.
There’s melancholy in her autumnal views of woods, where tall trees raise their foliage-depleted branches towards a diaphanous sky invoking the prompt end to their bareness, at the same time conveying the sentiment of peaceful stillness while nature sleeps through her long wintry night.
Pat’s fascination with the sky is obvious in the good weather as well as the tempestuous: golden and copper hues grace her sunsets over the bay with boats’ masts towering for added chiaroscuro, and the grace with which she treats textures and angles tell the story of reverence and awareness for the environment where she lives and she gets inspiration from. She always carries a camera with her to snap photos of potential subject matters and later develop them on canvas, working for hours sometimes on two or more projects at the same time in her new studio. “Once I spotted a goat with her two kids in a field, and they were just picture perfect in the pose they were, but unfortunately, I hadn’t my camera with me that day, and painting the scene from memory only would have not achieved the exact emotion they’d stirred in me.”
The commonplace warning ‘the devil is in the detail’ is absolutely false for Pat, who scours for angelical details in a cathedral’s portal, tracing all the cracks and splinters in the antique wood planks, as much as rust and mould eating at the studs that decorate and bolt them together: art collectors needn’t know to which edifice they can gain access through this portal – they just feel how holy it is from the reverential way its antiquity is treated.
Life is injected in her portraiture by minding the sparkle of light in their eyes and exploiting it to illuminate their features. From family and friends as ‘Guinea-pig’ sitters to majestic portraits of Diana Princess of Wales and Queen Elizabeth II, Pat works her magic in capturing their likeness and character.
Of course, Pat’s work is understated and may go unnoticed within a collective exhibition of boisterously broad canvases aiming at ‘shock and awe’ the incautious visitor, but she is not up for a novelty race of wits and palettes, but she likes to have her say in a soft voice to remind us that the beauty of the simplest things is larger than any canvas can ever contain, and yet can be described even with a miniature, if the eyes of the artists are capable to comprehend and embrace it in one gaze.
Like Pat’s page on Facebook to view her artwork on sale and for commissions.