Tom Montan, BP Portrait Contest

Submitting a painting to the BP Portrait Contest has become a yearly ritual for me, like a birthday or a holiday – it happens each year. I have submitted five times and been rejected five times. This years contest had over 2,700 entries. But far from a Sisyphean task, the weight of this show and the immense quality of the work submitted keeps me pushing forward. To have my pieces judged on this international stage against thousands of the most talented portrait artists in the world–is a true honor. The BP portrait Contest pushes me each year to try something different and be the best painter I can be. This year my goal was to work with blending and detail. Little thin layers of color put one after the other over the painting. Paint like life, — with each day, each layer, each experience, — it adds depth.

This is a portrait of a friend from college. His name is Chris and we spent many hours chasing what we felt at the time was the artistic way,– holding firm to a belief that the right mixture of alcohol, tobacco and machismo posturing in a red-neck bar could somehow stir the creative gods . We fooled ourselves into believing that the chase mattered, and that the American dream of success and fame was simply ours for the asking. We naively believed that we were tourists in these dark places and that our talent and intelligence separated us from the darkness of that journey.

I began to dabble with painting at that time and painted a piece to memorialize those nights and walks in search of wildness and art. I gave the painting to Chris that somewhere along the way was rolled up with its thick dried smears of my beginning paint strokes. The years have been hard on this old painting and this friendship.

Unrolled now, the paint has cracked and reveals an imperfect vision of Chris and of life in those younger years. In this portrait it serves as the backdrop for a clearer vision of Chris as he is today.

Inspired also by a poem by e. e. cummings and in particular the poems haunting ending line.

“he does not have to feel because he thinks
(the thoughts of others,be it understood)
he does not have to think because he knows
(that anything is bad which you think good)

because he knows,he cannot understand
(why Jones don’t pay me what he knows he owes)
because he cannot understand,he drinks
(and he drinks and he drinks and he drinks and)

not bald. (Coughs) Two pale slippery small eyes

balanced upon one broken babypout
(pretty teeth wander into which and out
of)Life, dost Thou contain a marvel than
this death named Smith less strange?

Married and lies
afraid;aggressive and:American”

by e. e. cummings
Tom Montan
March 4, 2015

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