There are some new faces at the Collingwood gallery, including a Nairobi fishmonger, a Russian sailor, a Sri Lankan market woman, and an Egyptian Felucca helmsman.
All have been brought to the library by artist Murray Val Halem as part of his collection of portrait paintings, which will hang on the library’s gallery walls until the end of June.
Van Halem is a self-taught artist who began painting in retirement. He comes from a background in photojournalism and commercial photography.
Portrait painting, he said, is an extension of his previous work.
“I’m interested in the faces,” said Van Halem. “The stuff around is not important, it’s just the face that’s important.”
And Van Halem’s favourite kind of face to paint is an older one.
“Painting portraits of children is very difficult because there’s no dimension, no features,” said Van Halem. “The older you get, the more wrinkles you have.”
The art of portrait painting is decreasing in popularity over the years. Its roots are in the Roman Catholic church leading up to the 1500s, then portrait painters worked for the wealthy merchant class painting commissions.
“(Portrait painting) is becoming less popular,” said Van Halem. “In Canada, everybody loves rocks and trees. Nobody buys portraits unless they’re commissioned.”
Artists, he said, also tend to shy away from the portrait-painting discipline.
“Painting a face is intimidating and it’s a lot of work,” said Van Halem, who paints every day.
He said the work does pay off in the end.
However, Van Halem said portrait painting is more possible than people think it is, with a little practice.
“There are two things you want out of your portrait painting: first, you want it to look like a human, and second, if it looks like the subject, you’ve hit it,” said Van Halem. “If you can do portraits, you can do anything.”
Van Halem was featured in the library gallery last year as well with a collection of oil paintings depicting Great Lakes ships. The Victoria Harbour resident said he comes to Collingwood often and considers himself at home anywhere on Georgian Bay.
Van Halem will be giving a painting workshop along with his gallery show this year. He’ll be demonstrating portrait painting on June 7, from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. at the Collingwood Public Library.
He’ll have some specific pointers for artists looking to venture into portrait painting, but in general, his advice is concise.
“Life is short, paint quickly.”
You can catch Van Halem’s exhibition, Faces of Time, on the walls of the library gallery now through June 30. You’ll also be able to see his Great Lakes Shipping exhibition at the Royal Victoria Regional Health Centre this July and August.