Mindell's work on display at National Portrait Gallery
By Rita Papazian
Posted: 10/30/2009

Overwhelmed and humbled are the words Norwalker Paul Mindell stated Monday to describe his feelings following a ceremony at the Smithsonian Institute's National Portrait Gallery in Washington D.C. last week where he was an award recipient in the Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition 2009.

His work, "Align Through Time: The Painted Muse, The Pixelated Views," was one of only 49 pieces to be recognized from 3,300 entries nationwide. Mindell's winning portrait, a photo collage, will be on exhibit along with the other winning entries at the National Portrait Gallery through Aug 22, 2012.

"It's really unbelievable recognition," said Mindell, who learned during an opening reception about the juried process that contributed to his humbled reaction to his win. He said that during the first round of judging, which was done online during the summer of 2008, the art work had to be accepted by all seven judges, which included the Portrait Gallery's Deputy Director Carolyn Carr and Peter Schjejdahl, art critic for The New Yorker. If even one judge voted against the work, the entry was eliminated in the first round. There was no "yes, no, maybe."

After he was named a semi-finalist he then had to send his portrait, a 40' by 44' cibachrome print of more than 70 images culled from hundreds of the artist's photographs, to the Portrait Gallery for final judging. The competition was open to a variety of media, including painting, sculpture, drawing, video and new media and photography. The entries represent many stylistic approaches.

"The variety and depth of the entries were encouraging to me since it proved that portraiture is an ever-evolving genre. And best of all, this competition allows the National Portrait Gallery and its visitors to see how today's artists interpret portraiture in all of its forms," said National Portrait Gallery Director Martin Sullivan in a statement.

Last Thursday, Mindell was speechless at the opening reception when he saw his work hanging in the National Portrait Gallery along with the other winning entries. He explained that except for presidents of the United States who are still living, the gallery is known for exhibiting only portraits of people who have been dead for at least 10 years. The Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition winning portraits change all that.

The creative process

"I first begin with a collection of visual data. I don't know where that visual data will take me. The artwork takes on a life of its own and the process then becomes the creation".As I begin creating the piece, the piece takes on a life of its own and the direction becomes apparent," explained Mindell.

In the case of his winning photo collage, "Align," the visual data included an oil portrait of "Betty," a live model whose likeness Mindell captured on canvas over a two-week period in a studio.

He then took a photograph of the painting. He spent another five hours during a two-month period photographing with his cell phone a variety of scenes in four separate art studios: artists' stools, easels, etc.

He also photographed "Anthony" one of his former students at Bergen Community College in Paramus, N.J. where he is a full-time art professor, as well as an image of Rembrandt accessed online and projected on his computer. Finally, he spent more than 45 hours during the course of five or six days working with the more than 70 images he had accumulated.

Mindell said the general idea for this portrait "was drawn from the uncanny resemblance of my student Anthony to a young Rembrandt." Then the photographs of the artists' stools took on images of stepping stones or a pathway into a studio as well as a journey back in time.

"I envisioned connecting paint and pixel and spatial and temporal relationships. While my portraits are traditional and realistic, my photo collages explore fragmentation and reinvention," he said. "'Align' addresses that duality: my oil portrait of Betty, standing nearby, counters a B&W digital photo of Anthony, who sits beside two computer images of Rembrandt's self-portrait. The canvas portrait of Anthony with Rembrandt hair was partly painted, partly photo-shopped. Entering the scene, you thread your way on stepping-stone -like stools to Rembrandt, then skip back to the future past Betty, where a barely visible young woman lingers with her Blackberry."

When asked about his use of the cell phone to take his photographs, Mindell said that he had lost his digital camera. And the more photographs he took with his cell phone the more he began to enjoy the results with the images. He said the low resolution of the photographs in his portrait contributed to the visual effect of time and the pixilation added to the visual and to the beauty.

A painter and photographer, Mindell has been creating photo collages for the past 20 years, the past six years digitally.

"It excites my brain," he said of the process. "I have this clutter in my brain that needs to get out. It's so cerebral." By clutter he means the images that live inside of him that need some place to take form, and when they do, a new collage is born.

He finds painting a much simpler process than collages.

Mindell, who graduated from the University of Michigan with a bachelor's degree in fine arts and earned his masters in art from the Rhode Island School of Design, has been teaching for the past 22 years at Bergen Community College. Former chairman of the art department at the college, he now teaches painting, drawing and life drawing on campus. Weekends are usually spent painting at the Art Students League in Manhattan. Locally, his work is on permanent display at The Daniel and Grace Tully Health Center at Stamford Hospital. There, 11 of his five-foot wide photo landscape collages are on display.

The Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition was open to all professional artists age 18 and over living and working in the United States. Both emerging and mid-career artists were invited to participate. Each artist entered one work depicting anyone--a friend, a stranger, a relative, a self-portrait--but each portrait had to be the result of the artist's direct encounter with that person. While the human form must have been the focus of the work, artists were invited to interpret the concept of portraiture broadly; for example, an entry might not have included a face.

The competition is a triennial event that invited figurative artists to submit entries in all media. The juried competition is made possible through an endowment by the late Virginia Outwin Boochever. A longtime docent at the National Portrait Gallery. Boochever, whose life as the wife of a U.S. Foreign Diplomat gave her opportunity to visit the portrait museums of England, Scotland and Australia, believed that portrait competition would not only encourage portraiture but also benefit artists directly. She saw the endowment as a unique opportunity to fill a void in the American art world. She died in 2005 at the age of 85.

The first place winner in the competition is Dave Woody of Fort Collins, Colo. His portrait of a woman is titled, "Laura" earned him a $25,000 cash prize and a commission to create a portrait of a prominent living American for the Gallery's permanent collection. The winner's commission will launch another new direction for the gallery--to acquire through commission innovative likenesses of remarkable living Americans by today's artists. Six other top winners received cash awards.

Mindell and the remaining award recipients received pink wrist bands, "ala Stephen Colbert," he said, with the word "artist" printed on it.

One exhibiting artist will win the People's Choice Award, in which visitors to the exhibition, both online and in the gallery, may cast a vote for their favorite of the 49 finalists. Voting for the People's Choice Award will close Jan. 18, 2010.

To view the winning entries of the Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition, go to www.portraitcompetition.si.edu. To learn more about Paul Mindell , visit www.paulmindell.com .