Patrick Byrnes is a New York–based artist whose sensitive portraits instill in the viewer an instant feeling of calm wonder. Trained in the classical traditions of Rembrandt, Rubens, Velásquez, etc, with the requisite emphasis on form and technique, his paintings and drawings manage to come across as both fresh and familiar—he sees his work, he says, as being part of a tradition as opposed to the expression of a distinct style. He trained at the Art Institute of Chicago as well as the Florence Academy of Art before coming to New York six years ago, where at Water Street Atelier he decided to narrow his focus. He now teaches and works from his studio at Grand Central Atelier in Long Island City, Queens.
For Issue 2, we were delighted to commission Patrick to paint the cover of the magazine, featuring a portrait of Nik Sharma, as well as four other original pieces which appear in the endpapers. Continue reading our Q+A with him to better understand his background, his process, his experience painting Nik, and why he prefers rendering models live rather than from photographs.
To see more of Patrick’s work, visit his website or follow @armstid on Instagram—or if you live in New York, he’ll have several new paintings on view in a group show at Eleventh Street Arts, opening on Friday, April 15th.
You mainly work in oil paints and drawing pencils, in a classic, realist style. When did you settle on these as your mediums and style of choice? What is it you were most drawn to?
I've always been inspired by the paintings of Rembrandt, Rubens, Velázquez, Zorn et al so I think of it less as a style than a tradition of studio practices that I'm interested in carrying on. It was maybe eight years ago when I first connected to this revival of traditional, technical training and I’ve been pursuing the form ever since. There’s something deeply rewarding about the very slow, careful study of the human body using graphite, charcoal and oil paint, and making pictures that celebrate beauty.
Tell us about your studio and the school where you sought training.
I moved to NYC about six years ago to study at Grand Central Atelier, which was founded by artist Jacob Collins, an important mentor to me. I graduated two years ago, and since then have been an artist-in-residence at the studio, where I create my own work and teach in the full and part-time programs. Staying close to the supportive community that provided my artistic foundation has been a great way to continue learning while I begin to develop a more personal set of artistic goals for my work.
Artists have always been inspired by the human form, and naturally grown food, and for your work that appears in Jarry men and food are the subjects. How are these two approaches different?
Less different than one might think. In both cases I'm just trying to translate the physical truth of what I'm experiencing. My approach is fairly consistent regardless of subject when I'm making a painted sketch: I'll spend maybe an hour in a purely linear mode, drawing the subject in burnt umber, then I’ll begin to render the form, trying to create a feeling of dimensionality with mixtures of color using a palette of about ten pigments. Of course, a live model is breathing, shifting, sometimes speaking, and that presents certain challenges that say, a bunch of limp chard doesn’t.
You told us early in this process that you mainly work from live models, not from photographs or your imagination. What are the advantages to painting from life, and how might a viewer notice them in your work?
I prefer to paint directly from live models because I seek the experience of sharing that moment with them—in a particular space, at a particular time. All the big and small observations about this person that I’m making with each passing minute...there’s an intimacy to that process of discovery that is thrilling. How that real-time intimacy translates to the viewer, I’m not sure… Maybe it doesn’t. But it’s the experience that I want to have right now when I’m working.
You painted our cover portrait of Nik Sharma in one sitting, over the course of four hours one night in February at your studio. Can you tell us about that night? Was your process any different knowing that the portrait would be reproduced in print?
It’s always rewarding to paint a fellow “maker,” and learning about Nik’s life and work during our session was inspiring. His photography has an amazing tenebrist quality that recalls Caravaggio and Baroque painting. I was a bit nervous knowing the work would be reproduced—which was a new experience for me—but as always, the opportunity to share a few hours with someone, trying to describe them with sensitivity and specificity, was a pleasure.
Do you find yourself thinking about composition and form while you eat or cook?
I’m more gourmand than gourmet, but yes absolutely. Recently I was enjoying a bag of Takis and contemplating how their tightly rolled form yields maximum crunch. I’m frequently inspired by the artistry of chefs despite not being much of a cook myself, although I do find myself trying to inject a bit of soigné into even my most humble/weird meals.
Lastly, what makes you hungry?
A long day of painting… or anything Nik Sharma posts.
All Paintings by Patrick Byrnes for Jarry