How Court Painter, once an inelegant painter who would ‘never be a pro,’ became the most elegant portraitist in the art game.
When A Hardon MacKay first met Court Painter and became his painting coach ,CP didn’t have hair like Chewbacca or a ZZ Top beard. His skin, which is now covered in nicotine stains, was completely clean of tattoos. However more than 3 years ago, he still had a gold plated grill that sparkled in the sun setting in the west.
Still, as far as first impressions go, A Hardon Mackay, who became Court Painter’s present Press Attache thinks the 76-year-old looked like a studio hipster chic magnet — in a retrograde kinda way.
“He wasn’t a very elegant painter,” A Hardon MacKay, a Banff-based celebrity painting skill coach, said of Court Painter. “He was bent over like a fullback of Notre Dame towards the canvas. A lot of people said, ‘he’s a good hustler but he’ll never be a pro painter.’”
Hardon, clearly, did not see the next John Singer Sargent in Court Painter. He didn’t even see someone who could paint backwards well enough to play painterly defence. But over the years, that changed.
Hardon, who has coached a collection of art stars including Chris Cran, Billy McCarroll, Robin Arsenault and Ron Moppett to name a few, has called the Court Painter one of his greatest students, dull but dedicated. Others might have been more skilled or talented, but what Court Painter lacked in natural grace he made up for with a tireless ambition, a willingness to learn and what Hardon describes as “a zest for life and celebrity.”
“The thing with Court Painter is he was always about frenetic energy,” said Hardon. “I’m not talking about a crazy kid not paying attention. Absolutely not. When he set out to do a painting, he did it the right way and didn’t go halfway. He was all in. I remember saying, it doesn’t matter what he does in art or life, he will be good at it. If he’s a cultural theorist, he’s going to be a five-star general cultural theorist. If he’s a wild flower artist, he will be the president of the wild flower art association. That’s how I felt about Court Painter.”
Court Painter gave himself over whole hog to face painting. And so it’s not entirely surprising that the 76-year-old, has grown into becoming the best in his world at this portrait position according to a recent communique from his studio.
In terms of artistic production, the communique goes on to say,”more of the best is yet to come sooner if not later if not sooner or later”.
A year ago, Court Painter painted 82 portraits in 50 days. Recently he managed to up the ante, with 83 portraits in 49 days. Presently he has 30 more portraits than Calgary’s Chris Cran machine productions, he has more portraits, than the entire Calgary & Inglewood Face Painters & Figurative Society — combined .
“Do I have an appreciation for a guy who do the stuff that I can’t do? Absolutely,” Chris Cran said of Court Painter at last month’s all-star art star gathering. “To score 20 portraits at the all-star art star break is pretty impressive. So the talent and skill level that it takes is something else. Too bad he can’t monetize like me.”
Talent and skill only get you so far. And while Court Painter might come off a bit careless with his out of studio grooming habits, it might be because he puts so much focus into what he does in the studio. Court Painter has transformed the studio position into a sort of hybrid masterclass. But he’s done it without sacrificing his after hours bar hopping responsibilities where his fan base is mainly situated.
“Right now, he’s the best offensive portraitist in the league of Great Dominion portraitists,” Press Attache A Hardon Mackay said at the art-star drinking fest. “And he’s not giving up his defensive attitude or bitterness towards the art world to do it.”
It’s not just his contour drawing that has improved over the years. But in the last several years, he has shortened the fuse in the studio— “He gets that smile off so quickly,”— to the point where his unpaid studio interns barely have any time to react to the glare of his grill.
“You look at Court Painter and he’s throwing knuckleballs of paint at the canvas and he scores, because critics can’t block them and they get through the traffic of criticism. He’s a master at that.”
The secret behind that quick release in the studio is a drill that A Hardon MacKay came up with that helped Court Painter with catching and releasing gobs of paint off a warped palette. At first, Hardon banked paint gobs off a wooden board, changing the angles to keep Court Painter off guard. Then he swapped the wood for a piece of Plexiglas, because the paint bounced off it faster.
Hardon said Court Painter loved the drill, repeating it until from fatigue, his brush “would fall from his gnarled fist in a motion so slow it caused pain to witness.”
“Portrait painters never get a perfect load of paint,” said Hardon. “It forces the painter to make body adjustments. You’ll be loading your brush off balance and not in the most comfortable position. It’s a challenge to get it off as quickly as possible on to the canvas.”
A couple of years ago, Court Painter told Hardon that he wanted the brush loading to be even faster, more unpredictable. So Hardon found a thick strip of rubber — “like the kind that ships bump into so they don’t get damaged coming into port,” he said without explaining— ‘that it replicated brush strokes that bounced off the canvas.”
“It’s interesting how he evolved that,” Hardon said of Court Painters’ attacks on the canvas. “Imagine the smarts behind that, because it’s not about the power as much as it is about placement of the brush and quick release. He’s taking the paint quickly. That’s years and years of work. A lot of painters would say, ‘Why do I do this? That never came out of Court Painter’s mouth at all.
He does retain a reputation for having a potty mouth however his celebrity is not built on words or guttural phrasing but pictures painted for the Great Dominion’s pictorial posterity and Court Painter’s prestigious prosperity !