MACHIAS, Maine — A glimpse at Steuben artist Robert Bryson’s recent immersion in portrait painting is now being showcased at the art galleries of the University of Maine at Machias in an exhibit titled “Portrait Project — 2011/ 2012.”
When Bryson set out to create portraits based on the book “Hidden Faces” by surrealist Spanish painter Salvador Dali, he envisioned a small project. Like Dali’s 1944 novel, which depicts in highly visual terms the love lives of eccentric aristocrats in a decadent 1930s era, Bryson’s portraits put faces on Dali’s curious cast of characters, who range from those involved in the French Resistance of World War II to a disfigured American fighter pilot.
A year and a studio of portraits later, Bryson had achieved a formidable collection.
Retired from government work eight years ago, Bryson usually paints landscapes from his home in Steuben but saw an opportunity to branch off into portraiture while reading “Hidden Faces.” Inspired by the colorful characters who populate Dali’s book, Bryson decided to try to paint them, soon realizing that, far from a small project, the task of capturing the characters of Dali’s book was a jumping off point for a much larger endeavor.
“After about 10 portraits I’d kind of had enough of the [Dali] party,” Bryson said. “I started doing portraits of relatives, acquaintances, friends and people from my sketchbook from my trip to Europe.”
Over time Bryson painted more than 200 portraits in many different styles and media, of which only a handful are now on exhibit at UMM. Among these are portraits of William S. Burroughs and Edvard Munch, as well as some self portraits, all done in a variety of techniques.
Bryson found the portraits to be an opportunity to experiment.
“As I started getting into the painting it became a little more fluid,” he said. “So I began to experiment a bit more.”
Bryson graduated from the University of Maine in 1976 with a degree in art education and has exhibited his work regionally in Bangor, Ellsworth and other towns in Maine. He also has had exhibitions in Rochester, N.Y., and in Washington, D.C. When not painting landscapes and seascapes, he draws cartoons for the Machias Valley News Observer.
The UMM show was organized with the help of Bernie Vinzani, a professor and director of the school’s art gallery. In addition to student shows, the university hosts six shows a year, which Vinzani says he chooses carefully from many requests.
“I get asked by a lot of people if they can show their work, but I like to show local work,” Vinzani said. “I like the art in the area, and I think more people need to see that art.”
Bryson’s exhibit will remain on display through Aug. 10. The university’s galleries are located on the first floor of Powers Hall on the UMM campus on Route 1 in Machias.