Every Picture Tells a Story...
Portraits by Kevin Geary
by Karen Reider, "Red Rock Review"
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
both have found a place in my column, light hearted wins a place in
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 his work.
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.
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
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 her father.
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 share.
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 architect.
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 agency.
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 from there.
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
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
“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
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
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
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
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 few.
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 284-0151 for private commissions.
Do give him a call.
This Article is was
published by the Red Rock