Every Picture Tells a Story...
Portraits by Kevin Geary
It’s always exciting to meet
new people, and interviewing local artists gives me plenty
of opportunity to do so. Artists, while typically eccentric
and abstruse, seem to fall into two categories, serious or
quite light hearted.
both have found a place in my column, light hearted wins a
place in my heart.
My mama tells me she makes
a new friend every time she reads a book. Well, I make a new
friend every time I write an article. It’s a great bonus.
On my initial phone call to
Kevin Geary, I was greeted by a cheerful voice with a marked
British accent. I knew I was in for a treat.
Geary is a vastly talented
artist whose portraits beckoned my interview. They caught
my eye on a counter in Walgreens and then again in a brochure
I happened upon. When I saw one of his portraits hanging in
Sommelier Winery in the Old Marketplace, I knew I had to give
him a call. I was captivated by the life-like qualities of
Geary works in graphite, a
pure form of pencil lead, that never fades or discolors. While
it can be erased, it is otherwise a completely permanent medium.
Since moving to Sedona, inspired
by the majestic red rocks, Geary has begun working in a new
medium of red rock clay, mixed with wax, doing portraits of
children. This imparts a quality to the delicate features
of young children similar to the red chalk drawings of the
old masters. This medium also has a remarkable longevity.
His portrait drawings are
done on a superb high-quality, handmade Italian paper, made
by the oldest paper-making mill in continuous operation in
Europe (since 1276). Made from cotton and linen rags by artisans
in Italy, this paper was used by Michelangelo, Raphael and
Leonardo da Vinci. Many of their drawings are still in good
condition today at more than 400 years old!
asked why graphite, Geary replied, “Many people are uncomfortable
with a large oil painting of themselves or their loved ones
over the mantelpiece. A graphite portrait is less overbearing
and grandiose, and more in keeping with the time in which
we live, whilst still being a fine artistic representation
of the subject or subjects. It is also easy to reproduce.”
I found Geary’s portraits
utterly impressive. His ability to catch the likeness, character
and personality of each person he draws is extraordinary.
His pieces are deeply personal. I felt as though I was looking
into the soul of each subject I viewed. Their mannerism, shyness,
exuberance, inner and outer beauty are portrayed beautifully.
Every portrait intrigued me.
There was one of Princess Michael of Kent that was especially
interesting. She commissioned the portrait to be done for
While you might expect her
to look rather “stuffy” and pretentious, Geary captured quite another look. Casually dressed in a turtleneck
and seated comfortably, her eyes were soft and sumptuous.
Her inner life revealed, she did not appear private or sealed.
Behind the arched cheekbones and the lovely curl of lips,
she was light and soft, almost watery.
Geary seems to know the body’s
inner dynamics, what routines shape what muscles; what muscles
align the bone structure, what alignments give the most strength.
I wondered what school, if
there was one, that teaches such technique. As one might expect,
however, this is an innate ability. One that all great artists
Geary did study anatomy for
one year at the Royal Academy in England, and the science
of color at the British Academy - hardly the sum total of
his talent, but surely an accent to his phenomenal abilities.
As they say, the seed does
not fall far from the tree. Geary’s mother and aunt both strongly
influenced and encouraged him in the field of art. His aunt
and grandfather were artists and his other grandfather an
At the age of 13, Geary won
a prestigious prize for his drawing from the Royal Drawing
Society. Then at the “whopping age of 19,” he was hired as
a political cartoonist for the Financial Times. When this
didn’t work out, he decided to try employment at an advertising
As his interviewer looked
over Geary’s portfolio, he was quite taken with his talent.
“Your work is incredible!” he proclaimed. Certain that Geary
wouldn’t be fulfilled drawing illustrations, he suggested
he get an exhibition together.
At 19, Geary wasn’t all that
confident. But when he saw an ad in a local newspaper soliciting
for artists to exhibit their work, he gave it a try.
Up to this point, Geary had
a collection of portraits he had done on famous people. These
were people he had chosen to draw, not by commission. One
such person was Harold Wilson, the prime minister of England.
When Wilson saw the portrait,
he liked it so much, he bought it. Soon after meeting, they
became fast friends. So, when Wilson heard Geary was doing
an exhibition, he offered to open the presentation.
It went very well and Geary
sold several of his portraits. At this time he received his
first commission, setting the tone for his future work. After
making a personal portrait of the client, he liked it so well
that he asked Geary to do his entire architectural firm. The
14 architects were displayed proudly at the establishment.
Someone saw it, hired him for a family portrait and it snowballed
Geary has never had to promote
himself; each portrait he does seems to bring another. Just
one look at any of his portraits and you needn’t ask why.
I questioned Geary on his
process to try and better understand how he captures the essence
of his subject. He does not draw from life, and oddly enough
this is why his portraits look so real.
Anyone who has ever “sat”
for a portrait can relate. Made to sit still in a pose is
completely unnatural and therefore produces the same effect.
Geary goes to the home of his clients and takes photographs
of them. Here on their own territory, he is free to watch
and study them. Within a short amount of time, he sees their
personality and character. Typically a photo shoot will take
about half-an-hour; then Geary will mix and match the photos,
taking perfect pieces from each one to compose a portrait.
This is particularly helpful
when Geary is doing a family portrait. It enables him to take
photos of the members separately as well as interacting together.
He then combines them artistically in the final piece. This
is an advantage over a photo portrait since everyone will
look their best.
This method has enabled Geary
to do family portraits of people that live in separate states.
He showed me an example of this with a father and his two
sons. Although living in different areas, Geary masterfully
joined them together - a beautiful composite of their individual
and group energies.
Geary loves doing portraits
of people all ages, but when pressed for a favorite, he had
to say children.
“As adults, we all have so
many complex layers of personality. We try desperately to
conceal our true personalities for one reason or another.
Children simply don’t have that. They are the way they are,
and when I portray them as such, the parents are really happy.
When they view a finished portrait, children always recognize
themselves. Adults, especially women, want me to remove the
wrinkles, or so-called imperfections. They don’t always see
the beauty at hand.”
In all of the portraits I
viewed, I noticed how perfectly natural everyone looks, at
ease and very, very real. Geary’s innate ability to truly
“see” his clients is phenomenal.
Often parents will tell their
children to take their hands away from their face or to smile
or act a certain way. Even so, Geary catches all their little
personality traits with his camera and incorporates them into
the portrait. Even when it is not what the parent expected,
they are quite pleased with the results.
I especially loved the way
Geary draws teeth. Everything about them is so real. When
I mentioned this, he laughed and recalled a story of a dentist’s
family he did a portrait of.
One of the children was missing
prominent teeth. Feeling it would spoil the picture, they
asked if he could draw the teeth in. Having become friends
with these clients (a pattern with Geary), the dentist later
told him the thing he admired most about the painting was
those teeth. Apparently the child’s teeth grew in exactly
as they were in the painting!
An internationally renowned
artist, Geary has more than 50 exhibitions of his work in
Europe and the United States. His work is in many major public
collections including the National Portrait Gallery in London,
the Legion of Honor in San Francisco, the Abbey Theatre in
Dublin and many, many others.
Geary has been commissioned
to draw portraits of some of the most famous religious, political,
royal, diplomatic and musical figures in the world. These
include Pope John Paul II, Dizzy Gillespie, Duke Ellington,
John Williams, Ella Fitzgerald, Jack Brymer, Patricia Queen
as well as countless others. His work is also in the private
collections of Golda Meir, Princess Michael of Kent, Count
Basie, Henry Kissinger and Vladimir Ashgkenazy, to name a
One critic said of Geary’s
work, “Kevin’s pictures go beyond the possibilities of photography
in their realism, they beat the camera at its own game. One
can imagine a camera taking one look at Kevin’s pictures and
then going away to die of a broken lens.”
Geary, now happily living
in Sedona with his lovely wife (and fantastic editor), Patricia,
can be reached at 284-3396 for private commissions.
Do give him a call.