ART | The Emotive Portraiture Of Don Bachardy
Teri Garr, 1979. Acrylic on paper, 26 x 40″.
Don Bachardy painted his first celebrity portrait in 1959, when the legendary composer Igor Stravinsky sat for him. The life partner of novelist Christopher Isherwood, Bachardy had incomparable access to some of the most influential figures in Hollywood during its golden age, many of whom became close, personal friends.
Working from life, and never from photographs, Bachardy captures his sitter’s essence as he focuses on elements such as personality, physique, mood, and color. For his first monograph of portrait work, the artist personally selected more than 300 original paintings and drawings that best represent his oeuvre.
Collected for the first time in Hollywood (Glitterati Incorporated), Bachardy presents a stunning collection of the town’s leading directors, screenwriters, cinematographers, costumers, producers, and agents. Included here are luminaries such as Bette Davis, Ginger Rogers, Fred Astaire, Rita Hayworth, Katherine Hepburn, Mia Farrow, Jack Nicholson, Gore Vidal, Natalie Wood, Montgomery Clift, George Cukor, John Huston, Edith Head, Anita Loos, and Gypsy Rose Lee, to name just a few.
Jack Nicholson, 1982. Ink on paper, 29 x 23″.
Bachardy describes his process in the introduction to the book, stating, “My method of work—spontaneous, intense, and without erasures or breaks, as fast as I can manage—is based on my conviction that despite all the difficulties, working from life is the only way to catch my sitter’s ‘aliveness.’ This often seemingly impossible task appears to my own peculiar psychological make-up. Not only must I challenge myself, but my sitter, too, whose patience, stillness, and concentration allow me, not to just look and record, but to see.”
Anne Archer, 1992. Acrylic on paper, 30 x 22″.
It is this depth and intensity that makes a Bachardy portrait more than a mere likeness of his subject, but a powerful look into the individuals’ soul. As Bachardy reveals in a conversation with his publisher, “All the surfaces of the face have the ability to express our entire experience. We are born with that capacity. It is in the face itself. I bet that’s why staring is considered rude; you are gaining information that is maybe dangerous. The face tells too much.
Patrick Swayze, 1985. Ink on paper, 29 x 23″.
“When I am painting and drawing I see the sitter’s face go through extraordinary changes. The comment I hear most often is, ‘Ohh, I look so sad.’ If you are sitting without anything else to do, you will get through the experience with contemplation. That’s why I am forced to create a kind of compilation, suggesting different faces of a face and what it is capable of over time. Sometimes it seems so complex that a voice says to me, ‘You can’t handle this.’ But because it seems so impossible, it makes me want to do it all the more.”
Kathryn Bigelow, 1983. Black acrylic on paper, 29 x 23″.
It is this tenacity, and this grace, that has made Don Bachardy one of the foremost portraitists of our age. By returning to the quiet, contemplative approach to portrait making, Bachardy has created a sanctuary where artist, subject, and viewer meet, each with a need to experience a private experience of connection. The result is a marvelous study of the personalities we have come to know and love, all the more admirable for sharing this intimate moment of reflection with us.