Tuesday, December 14, 2010

"The Kids", Family Portrait, 2004: New Detail Images

This 78" by 84" painting was my graduate thesis project in 2004. I really put everything into it that i had learned that semester. The figures in the front are pretty much life-sized. Yes, that's me without a beard, but I'm not sure how much it looked like me.

Image of the completed painting as it appears on my website

It sold to the president of Savannah College of Art and Design out of a California gallery. I had the painting shot as a large format transparency and a digital file. I still have the transparency for printing from, but lost the disc with the digital file, and have been unable to get one for my website. Today while looking for a music cd I found a disc with a hi res image of the piece in an almost finished state. I pulled some detail shots from it that really showed me a lot of things I had forgotten about it, and are not visible in the small image on my website.

I had forgotten the depth of form that I put into the figures. The studio was beautifully lit by north-facing windows. The "Stevie" tattoo, the zipper and red cowhide on my jacket are nice to see.
I had forgotten about the ribbed texture on the shirt. I remember being upset at one point at how distressed the surface was, and stuck all over with lumps and brush hairs, but now I think it's great. I'm pushing for that again.

I had also quite forgotten about the coloring page in the background of Rembrandt's Abraham and Isaac. It adds a dash of gravitas and also foreshadows my own version of Abe and Isaac, "Iconoclast". To the bottom left of the detail is Viv's drawing of her Lamby and to the right is a Popeye coloring page to.

Rembrandt Van Rijn, Abraham and Isaac, 1634

You may have seen the older version of my son in recent paintings, but this is him at three. I love the way the feet grip the little "foot handles". It is a shout out to Velasquez's "Prince Baltazar Carlos On Horseback", one of the many Velasquez references in the painting.

Diego Velasquez, Prince Baltazar Carlos On Horseback, 1634

Viv holds Lamby, her favorite toy in one hand and a wooden sword in the other, again a sacrificial symbol, or if you'd rather an allegory of war and peace. On her shirt is the Cowboy Hall of Fame logo, in which a cowboy rears back on a horse, echoing my son's pose.

There is far, far more that I put into the painting symbolically, but I'd rather that they be discovered and wondered about than to explain all of them.

This is a fun little area. There was a torso of a broken green cyclops toy that I had painted out because it was too distracting. There are now bits of kneaded eraser, globs of dry paint, staples, and a paint cap there instead.

Counting to a Thousand

When my son was about five or six he realized that if he took the time he could probably count to one thousand, so I thought it would be a good opportunity to catch him staying fairly still. I painted his bedroom walls like the top of a castle. I hightened the values in the sky to make it feel as if he was actually standing against a sky. The cast shadow, then reminds you it's a wall again.

I blocked in the grisaille from life with transparent browns and tightened up the anatomy from a snapshot. After I had these issues worked out I Posed him again and popped in all the colors from life. It's not much more than an experiment and a memory of my son at that age. I thought it would be interesting to play the cheerful colors against his confrontational pose.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Burn This Painting

This is basically a tribute to the Dutch painting. I have always enjoyed the way Rembrandt and other Dutch painters invite the viewer to step into the frame.

It was directly inspired by this Rembrandt at the Chicago Art Museum.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010


My wife is an apprentice midwife, and has herself birthed six children. Pregnancy, childbirth, and breastfeeding are topics as common at our dinner table as painting and Star Wars.

I began really noticing Charity in paintings after seeing Guido Reni's Charity at the Met in NY. Apparently I must be a big Reni fan, because I keep looking back to him. I laughed out loud looking the pile of babies trying to get to the breast, and became interested in other paintings on the same theme.

I began to notice that she is always shown with a covered head, I suppose as a sign of humility. She gives of herself not to be seen before men, but for the love of giving. Here is a wacky one by Jean Cousin the Elder.

The Optimist

I am somewhat obsessed with images of St. Sebastian. It is not that I particularly care about Sebastian himself, but am interested in the sense of internal conflict contained in his body.
To me there is no beauty like that of the human figure in turmoil, and no image with more lasting universality. To me, every male torso should have a protruding ribcage, and half of them should be shot up with arrows.

I began this painting undecided whether I wanted modern arrows or something more traditional. Since my experience with arrows is more from old paintings than anything else I went with the latter. My six-year-old daughter gave me a feather from a red-tailed hawk that she found in our backyard. I found instructions online on how to make primitive arrows, and made the butt-end of an arrow out of a brush handle.

Many of my favorite paintings are images of Sebastian. Here are two of my favorites, which both happen to be by Guido Reni. Traditionally, Sebastian is tied to a post. The raised arms in my painting are meant to suggest this motion, but in a way that might be seen in normal life.
The bluish nocturnes in the background also bears some similarities.

I find a similar pathos in Michelangelo's dying slaves, and this is probably where I got the idea of the white t-shirt. There is of course no greater master of struggle in the human form than Michelangelo.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Star Sheep

"star sheep" is my toddler's mispronunciation for "star sheet". It is a fitted crib sheet with tiny stars all over it that he carried around everywhere as a security blanket. Eventually it got torn into a long skinny shape with knots in it. We retired it and bought a new one, but this is a tribute to the star sheep and to eternal youth.

Goliath Unseen

To me, everything a child does is profound. My kids aren't joking when they dress for battle. They are practicing the strength of character that they will need to face the battles to come in their own lives.

This is my first attempt, really at a direct plein air landscape, and it's on a six-foot canvas.

The pose is borrowed from Michelangelo's David, which is borrowed from ancient depictions of Hercules.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Blind Walker

I was asked to set up a conceptual pose for a figure painting group that I am part of. This pose kind of popped into my head out of nowhere, a step out into the unknown. At first I was inspired by "The Folly of Love" by Emil Meyer, a symbolist painter.

Well into the painting, though, it became obvious to me that I was strongly referencing my favorite painting by N.C. Wyeth "Old Pew", an illustration from Treasure Island. The eyes covered, the textured road with shadows thrown across it, even the stars in the sky.

It is amazing how powerful images will haunt you, permanently become part of the way you see and imagine things, and then crop up in the most unexpected places. This may be my favorite thing about painting.

Friday, August 27, 2010


I made this painting during the time that we were out of our house for tornado repairs. Our good friends in Cabot, Arkansas were kind enough to let me set up a makeshift studio in one of their rooms.

Controlled Burn

This began as a classroom demonstration, and eventually went in another direction.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010


I am not from the country. Most of what happens here is alien to me, and it sometimes inspires wonder. The neighbor behind us raises horses, and periodically burns his field. The first time I saw this the fire seemed to whip around wildly and reflected in the pond where geese swam indifferently. I was interested in the idea of representing all four of the greek elements in one scene. The nude figure represents the fifth element, aether, which they believed the soul is made of.

Waterhouse's "Miranda the Tempest" has always been a favorite of mine, and was an influence on this piece. It is a small painting on a 9"x12" panel.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Mother and Child

Here's an obvious reference to old Madonna and Child motifs, although without the idealization that was in fashion when most of the great ones were painted. In fact, such harsh lighting, scraggly hairs, and anxiety in a Madonna would have probably been considered vulgar or even sacrilegious in the renaissance. Out here in podunk Arkansas the stars shine very brightly. The sky in this painting is an eastern view of our backyard. Lately, the planet Venus shows up first and outshines all of the other stars, which naturally reminds me of the Bethlehem star.

This pose began as a candid moment, unstaged, and the first thing I saw was a Dorothea Lange photograph of a very similar pose. That gesture of the hand to the side of the face, the open shirt, and the baby across the lap were all perfect. I intentionally avoided really studying the Lange picture in any kind of direct way until I was finished, though.

Dorothea Lange "Migrant Mother, Nipomo, California", 1936

The red shirt on the mother was as unstaged as the gesture, but perfectly served as a shout out to Raphael Sanzi, the grand master of Madonna and child paintings. The addition of a renaissancified Arkansas landscape is another little push in that direction. Whether the "prince of painters" himself would have appreciated the comparison is another matter. I hope he would.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Dream Giver

This Painting is entitled "Dream Giver". Initially, I got the idea for the painting while viewing another of my paintings, "Iconoclast", and interpretation of Abraham and Isaac, upside down.

I liked the supernatural feeling of the boy swooping down from the ceiling, which immediately reminded me of the Inspiration of St. Matthew by Caravaggio. I really liked the way Caravaggio uses the cloth patterns to create the drama of what is going on. I like the kid drawing of a spider as a reference back to Iconoclast. As I worked out the composition, I found that the angelic figure was becoming somewhat of a sandman type being, and enjoyed the dripping flake white as a crusty sandlike substance that is actually dripping from the cloud-like thing that is the boy's body.

Just before completing the painting, I saw Caravaggio's Annunciation in Rome. I had never remembered seeing it in reproductions, although it is in one of my books. I found the angel in this one strikingly similar to my dream giver.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Ignacio Trelis Copies Cefalo Painting in Spain!

Spanish artist, Ignacio Trelis sent me a birthday greeting with this picture attached. It's a street painting of my piece "Starsheep". What an incredible way to be honored on my birthday! It's incredibly accurate too. Wow.

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I am a painter. www.StephenCefalo.com, http://twitter.com/#!/CefaloStudio