Words by TL Duryea
Connecticut and New York
During the weeks and months following the 2016 election, I found it very difficult to paint. My painting career had always leaned towards landscapes and beautiful abstracts, and suddenly, those topics no longer felt appropriate. I knew we were entering into one of those difficult periods in history where everything would change, and that included me and my work. I had no idea what that would mean to me, or if I should continue painting at all.
Like millions of women worldwide, I participated in the Women’s March. For my marching sign I did a quick watercolor of Hillary Clinton. People walked up to me again and again, some with tears in their eyes, moved by my simple tribute to Hillary. In retrospect, perhaps this was the seed that planted the idea for the Portrait Project. Throughout the rest of 2017, I continued to try to find my path with my artwork while also looking for how to best fight for the future of my country—not realizing I could do both at the same time. I resolved to jumpstart 2018 with a month of daily paintings that would celebrate today’s most inspiring political figures. I felt this would hone my talent while also remind others that there are many noble people in politics fighting with us. The Portrait Project would add something positive to the narrative and combat the rampant cynicism towards our political process.
My Portrait Project was, and is, a huge success. People began to tell me how the Portrait Project inspired them, how it lifted them up and gave them hope that we could restore our country. Often when I posted the daily portrait, conversations would stir around interesting and relevant topics. People used the daily portrait as a conversation starter with their kids, using the day’s image to educate on politics and on the impact my subjects were making on the world. Knowing how much the project meant to others, and how much I was getting out of it as well, I decided to continue into the coming months. Because my paintings are done very quickly, I am often able to paint something within 24 hours of when a person is in the news. This helps make the work incredibly topical. I painted Congressman Kennedy the day he responded to the new administration’s State of the Union Address. I painted Emma Gonzalez the day after she gave her first speech. I painted Senator Feinstein right after she released the Fusion GPS testimony. Each day, I continued to paint someone who inspired, such as Secretary Hillary Clinton, Associate Justice of the Supreme Court Ruth Bader Ginsburg, feminist icon Gloria Steinem, and Senator Cory Booker, to name a few.
For me, painting a portrait is like having a deep conversation with that person, so when Kristen invited me to contribute a painting of Hillary to her upcoming book, The Revolution Is Female, I was beyond excited. Kristen and I had met during the Democratic Primary in 2016 while waiting in line at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, where we saw Hillary clinch the nomination. We learned that we had a very special mutual friend and a deep desire to help Hillary become our 45th president, so we attended more campaign events together, as well as canvassed door to door in Pennsylvania—which was totally out of our creative comfort zones. One of the many enduring legacies of Hillary Clinton’s presidential run in 2016 has been the forging of strong friendships with amazing women—friendships based on common goals, shared grief, and a desire to make a better world for the future.
The portrait of Hillary I painted for The Revolution Is Female is based on the photograph by Kristen Blush, on the cover of the book. This is my 4th painting of Hillary, and I believe my strongest. In the portrait, Hillary is determined, and proudly dressed in white. She is serious, because we live in serious times. This image is not an airbrushed glamour shot. It speaks of strength, resolve, and resilience. When choosing the background colors, I used magenta, purple, and a deep blue grey. I used purple for several reasons, one being to add richness and depth to the painting, but also as a nod to the purple Hillary wore during her concession speech. The color purple also symbolizes dignity and nobility of spirit, two things that Hillary Clinton will always embody to me.
Everytime I view the painting, I am reminded about the introspective time I spent with Hillary while painting the portrait, and it gives me strength and determination to keep going, to continue to push myself outside my comfort zone, and to keep faith that we can get our country back to the great country I believe it can be.
This essay appears on pages 110-111 in The Revolution Is Female.