Sharon Spencer – Artist in Residence

Faces of Courage Series: Artist Statement

My series, Faces of Courage, are realistic oil paintings dealing with the topic of abject poverty and are portraits of individuals who attend the Hope Center, a day shelter, in Wilmington, NC. These paintings are an attempt to represent those in poverty with a sense of dignity and beauty.

My mother and grandparents grew up in the Irish Ghettos of Boston. They worked odd jobs just trying to keep food on the table. The kids often watched themselves, and at one point were playing with my grandfather’s matches and burned the apartment down. Social services got involved and all of the kids ended up tossed around the foster care system. Later on my mother was adopted, but she never forgot where she came from, and has always had a generous heart for the poor, which has greatly influenced my life and my art. My series, Faces of Courage, are realistic oil paintings of portraits dealing with this topic of abject poverty and individuals who attend the Hope Center, a day shelter, in Wilmington, NC.

I have been working with The Hope Center since January 2016. My process involves talking about my story and why I am there, and then they often share their stories with me. Next I ask if they might be interested in modeling, and what I pay per hour. Then I take a series of photos while explaining my process to the models of looking for good light and shadow, and even involve them in looking at the photos with me. I continue on with value sketches often combing more than one photo to get the best composition. Most of my color palette is limited to create a sense of continuity throughout the work. My canvases are medium to large, which works well with portraits and figures.

The Hope Center itself provides food, lockers, clothing, jobs, and fellowship. The focus of my series deals with fellowship and the courage it takes to keep going. I have found that the Hope Center embodies hope. In my painting “Quiet Eyes” with Andy as the model, there is a sense of his presence through his eyes and essence in his pose. The pose, which is to the side as well as his glance, quietly engages the viewer. I try to let the models know what I am looking for, but then also let them be themselves in their pose. Sequoia’s Smile, represents a different side of courage and fellowship, her eyes and smile show a sense of joy, as she had spoke to me with such a positive attitude for her future, and I think that her physical pose and the way she engages the viewer tells of this.

It is my intent to represent those in poverty with a sense of dignity and beauty. Poverty does not always represent doom and gloom, as I have learned from those at The Hope Center, and my mother’s love for the poor. There are many that make a difference in the lives of others daily. I hope my series well represents those that I painted, and the time we have shared together.