Visual Arts Sophomore Sean Rivera Awarded 2013 SURE Grant

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Visual Arts Sophomore Sean Rivera was awarded the 2013 SURE grant to pursue his project, “A Crown of Beauty” under the mentorship of Professor John Halaka. Rivera will develop and explore themes of dignity, elegance, and pride within the elderly through the medium of portrait painting.

See Project Statement below:

Summer Undergraduate Research Experience

A Crown of Beauty

Wise King Solomon of the Old Testament once noted that “grey-headedness is a crown of beauty.”

Men and women who have lived lifetimes quadruple that of my generation evoke a sense grandeur and beauty that I could only hope to have when I am at any age. While our lives are dominated by haste and agitation, they live with simplicity and contemplation defined by the values and morals they have acquired in their lifetime. Their psychological stability and emotional grace are evoked by a more complete vision of life, while their actions are driven by layers of experiences and a sense of history and identity that we could only dream of understanding.

During the times I’ve spent with the elderly I have come to have a better understanding of that old Solomonic Proverb. Even in an age where we constantly throw out the old to give way for the new, the indispensible role of those who wear the grey-headed “crown of beauty” becomes apparent especially in our multi-generational society. Their words and wisdom far outweigh that of any book that we could read and their lives speaks volumes of our own humanity as we come to have a better understanding of the world through their eyes. Even in their silence, their quiet dignity evokes inspiration of the resilience of their generation.

My life has been graced with the presence of older people who continue to age with beauty. Like fine wine, the inspiring men and women I have come to meet seem to age better with time. These individuals, beautiful inside and out, continue to inspire me to become a better person inside and out. Having volunteered in elderly facilities, I’ve come to meet and befriend older ladies and gentlemen who continue to look after their image. One such individual would not leave her room without her pearls and makeup and another gentlemen refuses to have dinner until he has his dinner jacket on. Even with failing health and frail bodies their pride and strong sense of self-respect would not allow them to be seen in a decrepit state. The primary inspiration for this project, my grandmother, for example, has taught me to enjoy the finer things in life. Yet, she believes that outward beauty is but an outlet of what is inside. It is the values and morals we hold that make a person beautiful. And truly it is their inner grace and harmony than radiates more beautifully than their outward appearance.

The proposal for my project is to begin a series of portrait paintings that focus on older individuals I have met during my lifetime. It will be an opportunity for me to expand on my passion for drawing and painting portraits and the human figure. Because these are more intimate and personal paintings, the subjects will be people I’ve come to know already or may want to better acquaint with. My primary goal in all these paintings is to depict the subject in a way that captures their elegance as well as their pride and dignity within the confines of their world and to suggest the subtlety and strength of their character as I come to understand them.

The first painting of the series I will undertake is the portrait of my grandma. The size of these paintings will range from 30x40 and 36x48 inches. From the outset of this project, I will immerse myself in researching the history of portrait painting in order to expand my understanding of that tradition and strengthen my paintings in this series. It is my hope to meld the classical techniques and compositional devises of the old masters and the Orientalist tradition along with more contemporary painters such as Casey Baugh, Alyssa Monks, and David Kassan. My research and stylistic approach to the portraits will be primarily inspired by the works of John Singer Sargent, both in the technical aspects as well as his interpretations of figurative paintings.

I will work under the supervision of John Halaka, Professor of Visual Arts, in order to accomplish these goals. As I’ve worked with him during the Fall 2012 semester and continue to work with him during this semester. He has a profound understanding of my work habits and ideas. I will be working closely with him throughout this semester to begin preliminary research and preparatory drawings for the proposed project. After completing three large paintings for the series over the summer with the support of the SURE program, I plan to further the series during the fall semester with an Independent Study class. My goal is to develop a total of 9 to 10 portraits for this series over the course of the summer and following two semesters. This will enable me to fully develop this portrait project and examine the evolution of the idea within the specified time span.

This project will serve as a stepping-stone for me to the larger body of work that I will create during my Junior and senior years. I will present the completed portrait project to the faculty during my Junior Review and will utilize the lessons I acquire from this project to prepare the paintings that will be presented in my senior thesis exhibition. With the paintings that I create for the series “A Crown of Beauty”, I will begin to develop a cohesive body of work as a visual artist that will define the direction of my work for several years to come.

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