The OBPC 2006 Peoples Choice winner for his painting
My Father in the Living Room of Our 10th House
Oil on canvas, 2005,
60 x 77 in. (152.4 x 195.6 cm)
Collection of the artist
Second Place People's Choice is Sam and the Perfect World by David Lenz
Third Place People's Choice is Convexed by Will Wilson
Please visit the Exhibition pages for images and information about these potraits.
Below are a few viewers' responses to the People's Choice.
This is an everyday guy, and he is interesting. I want to know this man. On a technical level, the execution of the skin tones, features, and expression are nearly photographic. This realism and the viewers proximity to the subject makes me feel an intimacy and familiarity with him. I know that any knowledge I think I have of his life is an illusion, but I feel that the moment captured here gives me a view into his history. This portrait reminded me of so many hard working men, men who earned a living with their body, who I passed on the road when I lived in Texas. The lines on this mans face seem to carry the story of his life he is a man who has experienced hard times and has a great laugh. The closeness, intensity, and focus of this portrait appeal to me because it is so personal, and it allows you to stare and take-in the details of this mans face in a way which just isnt polite if we were to meet. I am drawn in and want to keep looking.
I voted for Mr. Seward's portrait of his father for a number of reasons. Firstly, it is almost photographic in its realism. When I take photos, I always come in very closely to the subject. It isn't quite so intimidating now that our cameras have lovely zoom features. Every wrinkle, pimple, crease, crevice, age spot, large pore, and whisker (male or female) contributes to the compendium that is that person's face. When I ask someone to take a photo of me, I always have to wave them in like an airplane to the gate, in order to get the type of shot I like. Inevitably, I get a boobs and belly shot with a little face parked on top. I like Mr. Seward's zoom.
Secondly, there are no clothes in the picture to create any extraneous thoughts or presumptions.
Thirdly, my guess is that the face is lit by the glow of a television. The eyes are concentrated on something in the near distance. I'm guessing the Evening News or Jeopardy. The portrayal of a man sitting quietly in his own living room watching television is both intimate and representative of millions of other people doing the same thing. Substitute any face you know well and picture it the same way in your mind's eye.
-Rebecca E. Scully, Florida
I chose Mr. Sewards painting because the composition and living colors captured my eye. I felt it was alive. Then, I found the more I looked at the image and saw the details of a mans life on his face, through the deep wrinkles and solemn eyes, it made me feel very peaceful. It made me want to know more about him. In that, I believe the artist is fulfilling his statement of purpose.
For me the there was a deep sense of realism to the piece. It gave me the feeling that I could reach out and stroke the deep lines of the man's face, or feel the softness, and in some areas roughness of his weathered skin. As looked at his realistically blue eyes I could empathize with his longing for something. While I was in awe of and thrilled by the artist's talent I also felt sad. My sorrow was for the subject because there was a deep sense of sadness for something missed or lost. I almost felt physical pain. To feel such wide range of emotions from one piece of art is something that is rare. This work pulls you in and makes you feel as though you are part of the story.
In viewing the final candidates in the National Portrait Gallery's "People's Choice" competition, I found very few of the portraits either revealing or compelling. Some were gimmicky, others frankly bland, but James Seward's portrait of his father was arresting. It is a glimpse into the soul of a survivor -- a man weathered by life and the elements, weary but determined, and if not wise by education, at least wiser for experience, vicissitude and longevity. It is a portrait without pride, but equally without surrender. In that face there is no joy or humor, but a resignation and a sense of responsibility. It is a face in which only a son can find the immense and unconditional love of a father. But it is a face that will never show tears.
I chose Seward's painting for its exquisite honesty of longing. Central are the details of his father's aged face-no distanced or smoothed-over, idealized portrait here. I was drawn to look for the hidden story.
The immediate, close-up view, set in their living room (often both a formal and casual space in smaller homes), conveys the father filled an iconically central role in the artist's life and psyche, perhaps both positive and negative. The blurred background suggests the father's presence commanded the son's full attention anywhere, but out of love or fear I cannot tell.
Yes, there is a story here, yet its hidden deep within the wrinkle lines, or maybe out of sight in the father's gaze, perhaps even in his mind's eye still. And to me it is ambiguous: Does it illustrate love for his father and for the sacrifices he made in life for his family, the hard knocks taken, seen by the many deep furrows, blemishes, and far-away look of regret? Or is he critical of his father's emotional distance and sternness, conveyed by the piercing gaze that looks away? Perhaps the working-class father is critical of the artist son. Or is he merely shy? Does he feel unworthy as the subject of such scrutiny?
That they have come to be in their titular 10th house implies a lack of stability, so the title increases my perception of a lack of certainty in their relationship. In this portrait, I see longing for that certainty.
-Meredith Ray McQuoid Greason, Washington, DC
I chose James Seward's painting over other portraits based on both an instant response - it literally took my breath away - and more reflective thought.
I was not only impressed by the detail achieved in a relatively large canvass - aren't the ears wonderful? - but also the personal subject matter reminded me of my own father and touched my emotions in a way that few paintings have ever done.
I was drawn into wondering what sort of relationship there is between the father and the artist son. What life experiences could I glean from the old man's eyes? Was he lonely or contented? Rich or poor? I wanted to meet him and know him better.
Although I enjoyed many of the other portraits in the exhibition for me this one made my visit worthwhile in itself.
-Paul Hooper, England
The erosion of time etches the achievements and disappointment on a strong profile of this individual. The face shows determination to weather through the hardness that life can produce and leave the chiseled remains on the outside, but hints of softness under layers of small achievements. The eyes still have a youthful look like new windows on an old house. He carries a stalwart fortitude that only life itself can produce as well an impression of trusted straightforward acquaintance.
The close up image of the father with all of its wrinkles and lines brought me into his world. I could relate to his tenth house because my family also has moved a lot.
This work seemed to personify life today. Many of us move a lot, for whatever reason, our houses sometimes remain houses not always homes. They seem temporary.
The close-up of the father seemed to magnify the person and put the living room into the background. It was a living room like many others. The artist captured a part of America that is familiar to many of us. The father seemed to typify many fathers across America--a hard-working, family man. The overall execution of this painting was bold. It did not shock or confuse. It merely highlighted a common life experience for many of us.
I couldn't take my eyes from the portrait - it is so humane, insightful, and warm. I thought I could feel both the son's and the father's feelings! I've lost my father when I was 8 and he was 41. Looking at the portrait I thought "how lucky Mr. Seward is to be able to express his feelings for his father," and "what MY father would have looked at this age?" and "now I'm much older than my father."
Congratulations with a great exhibition!
-Valeria Shadrova, Russia