Sam Messer

Brooklyn, New York

Oil on canvas, 2004

84 x 79 1/8 in. (213.4 x 201 cm)

Collection of the artist

Artist Statement:
Inspired by Eggleston’s work and seeing it recently at the Getty, I tracked down his phone number in Memphis and gave him a call. After explaining that I paint portraits and would like to come paint his, he replied, "That sounds allright, can you call me back in 5 minutes after I finish my cigarette?” I went to Memphis and spent a few days with him at his office and home. During this time I drew all the time and we got to know each other. I also began to experience him in his environment and it informed me about the direction of the portrait. I have been lately interested in the relationship of painting to photography and have been seeking out photographers to paint as well as their cameras. Please see two books I have published that show my interest and process, One Man by Himself-Portraits of Jon Serl (Hard Press) and The Story of My Typewriter (DAP; this is a body of work about portraits of Paul Auster and his typewriter). I believe that portraiture is a collaborative process. I am interested in only painting people that I meet/know and from life. The fact that my portraits look like the sitter in the end is only a by-product of the event. What matters to me is that what interests me in the sitter, because of who they are and what they do, comes across in the portrait. I spend time with the sitter drawing them as we just spend time together. I like to draw people doing what they do. The portrait is successful if during this exchange I am able to express something about the person that is larger than their appearance and closer to the essence of some part of their character. I get engaged with individuals and try to build a body of work around them that together and individually expresses something about their uniqueness. I have done this with Jon Serl and Paul Auster and am now working with Kiki Smith and Jonathan Safran Foer.

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