Portraits and “The Face You Have Made”

There are a lot of superb contemporary realism portraits being made these days; this article by Allison Malafronte shines light on a gifted individual.

Contemorary realism portraits - Amy Werntz, "Lunch," 2021, oil on panel, 24 x 18 in., The Bennett Collection of Women Realists, San Antonio
Amy Werntz, “Lunch,” 2021, oil on panel, 24 x 18 in., The Bennett Collection of Women Realists, San Antonio


The emotive content and contemplative mood that resonate in the paintings of Texas artist Amy Werntz (b. 1979) are both palpable and poignant. Scenes of elderly women and men eating alone at restaurants, sitting quietly lost in thought or reflection, or holding something near and dear to them, inevitably tug at viewers’ heartstrings. These images may bring to mind memories of loved ones while reminding us of our own frailties and mortality.

In the painting “Lunch,” illustrated here, all of those emotions are on the table as we feel empathy for, and curiosity about, this aged woman with a distant, disconnected look in her eyes eating her fast-food lunch. “I would like viewers to walk away feeling they have interacted with the person in the painting and brought their own experiences to that interaction,” the artist says. “Through their postures and expressions, as well as the uniqueness of every line on their faces, I strive to show the importance and value of this generation so often overlooked in our society by the lure of youth.”

For Werntz — who is primarily self-taught in fine art after receiving her B.F.A. in interior design from the Art Institute of Dallas — it is not solely generational appreciation or reminiscence she is after. Her portraits of people in life’s last chapter also serve as portals into how they have lived and the emotions and experiences they carry.

“When you are young, you live with the face you are given,” Werntz notes, “but when you are old, you live with the face you have made.” Several of her portraits show countenances worn from a life well-lived, while others wear hardened expressions that suggest years of struggle, strife, or unresolved angst.

Throughout her career, Werntz has explored time in some form or another. “Earlier works were drawn more from my concern about not living in the correct time,” the artist says. “I created pieces from found black-and-white photographs, translating them into bolder, more graphic paintings. Over time it grew into a strong desire to bring forgotten moments from the past back to life.

“In my current work, I aim to capture seemingly insignificant moments in people’s normal lives, removing the environment so as not to influence the viewer’s interaction with the subject. My hope is for people to look at the paintings and see something of themselves, a loved one, or just what they need to see. I feel each subject’s true story is not what’s most important; it is the story the viewer creates through his or her own personal history.”

Clearly Werntz is fascinated with exploring the concept of time and its effect on humans, and she admits to being particularly concerned about its passage. One benefit of this acute awareness is that it has led the artist to be more present and realize how precious even the simplest moments are. “Life passes so quickly,” she observes. “I like the idea of honoring the ordinary moments. We are so used to capturing and remembering the ‘important’ moments, but I’m interested in seemingly insignificant ones, moments that pass by almost unnoticed. Our lives are primarily made up of these forgotten, ordinary moments, so why not honor them instead?”

This article was originally published in Fine Art Connoisseur magazine.

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