7/12/09 2:12 PM
Portraits are meant to reveal something essential about the person portrayed—not something obvious but something that cuts to the core of the being. In “Piano Player,” a portrait by the painter Brad Stovall, a balding man in tie, vest and white shirt sits at a black box, eyes closed, fingers fluttering above a black box. Really, just that—a small black box. And yet, the picture is painted such that the viewer can vividly see the bliss and concentration with which the man plays. How Stovall achieves this is entirely a question of painterly choices, none of them obvious, all of them effective. Color is the dominant one: the majority of the picture is composed in black and white, a color palette that synecdochically conjures the missing piano. It also allows the few touches of applied color to have an immense force, with hot pinks and cool blues tinting the man’s hands and head, where the passion of his playing resides. Thus does a simple subject, painted in an unpredictable and restrained manner, come to have surprising power, in none of the ways that might have been expected.