A writer, artist and all around creative guy, Padraic was kind enough to spend a few minutes chatting about the story and artistic process behind this particular, and quite terrific, Miles Davis print.
Miles Davis Online: Let’s talk about your wonderful illustration of Miles Davis. For starters, why Miles Davis?
Padraic O’Reilly: There is a bit of a story behind why I painted him. At the time, I was in a rough patch between a couple of art schools, so I was driving a cab on the late shift and just sort of socking away money. Come midnight, I’d turn the dial down to this Boston Jazz station, WBUR I think. And they played a lot of Miles, which was perfect music for tooling around Boston in the lonely night. When I got back to school, I had this teacher, Dan Miller, who was a terrific portrait artist, and while he preferred to work from life, he’d use photos, too, if he didn’t have a model.
He liked to draw and paint artists that he admired. Not too long after getting out of school, I figured I’d give it a shot; hence the Miles portrait.
MDO: It looks like an image that represents Miles in his later years, unless I’m reading it wrong.
Padraic O’Reilly: Yeah, though it’s over a decade now, and I don’t have the source photos anymore. He’s got that quintessential artist glare in his eyes, you know, like the older Picasso.
MDO: Talk about the process behind this particular work. I’m curious about what type of tools you used, colors and the overall method.
Padraic O’Reilly: I had a couple of photos, and I taped them up over a piece of masonite that I primed. I like masonite because the brush deposits the paint quite smoothly, and detail is easier for me on it. It’s an oil painting, very much a straight ahead, classical portrait.
I did an under-painting first, in burnt sienna, which, if you do it right, gives the shadows a great, luminous quality. An under-painting is a one-tone image that you paint over. It can work almost like a beat in music if you do it right–something to hang the rest of the work on.
Dutch portraits–Hals, Rembrandt–were the inspiration here, as they are the best at this technique. Then I knocked in his features, pretty quickly, trying to get that painterly quality, like it was tossed off. I used a lot of medium, linseed oil and turpentine, to make it look buttery, too. I wanted some color in the background, to help his face pop a little more, and the red worked well, I think, because his expression is so intense.
MDO: Any new plays, or artwork in the pipeline?
Padraic O’Reilly: I’m writing a book right now, about a year spent teaching in Harlem. Hopefully, that’ll be out at the end of the year. It’s called Bad Teacher. Also, I have a show of portraits going up in Ballinamore, Ireland, at the Solas Gallery in November. I sold another artist portrait–of the great Irish novelist John McGahern–to a close friend of his in Ballinamore about two years ago.
My father lives there, so I went over and took a bunch of pics of the townsfolk. Great faces. And now I’m painting them. I’ll get a website up soon: Project Ballinamore.
MDO: Would you ever consider another Miles Davis work?
Padraic O’Reilly: Oh, absolutely. The guy had a helluva face, and people really seem to like that portrait.
MDO: And because it’s all about Miles Davis around here, what’s your favorite Miles album?
Padraic O’Reilly: Well, it would have to be those cab nocturnes. Kind of Blue. All Blues–what a song!–and I had quite a few Freddie Freeloaders in that back seat, man. No Joke.