“When I was a teenager, I would look at the works of very successful artists and illustrators and think, this is exactly what I want to do when I grow up,” said artist Gavin Glakas, who was among the faculty members of the fourth edition of Realism Live.
Born and raised in Bethesda, MD, Gavin lives in McLean, VA, with his family, where he teaches painting and drawing at Georgetown University Medical School and the Yellow Barn Studio.
The idea that much of the art of the 1990s was not representational but abstract and the conviction that he could not be self-supporting as an artist led him to set aside his passion for art to pursue studies in law, like his dad. But the unpredictability of life and the discovery made in his early twenties that he had lung cancer – completely removed surgically – led him back to the decision to pursue a career in art.
“From this epiphanic life-or-death pill, I made the best decision of my life,” he said. “It was like going through life from black and white to color.”
Gavin spent six months at the Slade School of Fine Art in London, UK, and took courses with Robert Liberace and Danni Dawson – his mentor, inspiration, and, above all, his great friend. This further amplified his passion for representational art.
Work experiences in different fields have also contributed to making Gavin a well-rounded artist. Indeed, he has worked as a Senate staffer at the White House and as an illustrator in Athens, Greece. But it was his work experience in The Discovery Gallery that honed his all-round knowledge in the field of art, enabling him to understand its commercial mechanisms.
His works today are part of the permanent collections of the U.S. Capitol Hill, the Virginia State Capitol, universities, museums, and numerous other public and private collections.
It was during his artistic sojourn in London that, while frequenting museums and galleries, he visited the National Portrait Gallery and fell hopelessly in love with portraiture. “In the gallery, there were portraits of living artists and people, so I understood: there is a path to a career here,” he said, “it was just a matter of finding the courage to achieve it and figuring out how to get there.”
As a great lover of illustration – that of the Golden Age in particular – in addition to portraiture, Gavin also fell in love with landscape art. He particularly appreciates the detailed works of Frederic Edwin Church (1826-1900), an ambitious leading figure of the Hudson River School.
Commissioned portraiture is a type of painting that seemingly seems to clash with an artist’s creativity, yet for Gavin, it represents an inexhaustible and extraordinary challenge, the basis of which is an ongoing dialogue with his clients, with some of whom he has established true friendships.
Gavin involves the client as much as possible, especially in the early stages of the process, making several versions of the portrait on small sketches finished in detail. It’s “a laborious but equally important step to solve from the beginning all the problems that might arise in the later stages,” he said. The result is two or three final sketches, which range from the artist’s most original idea to a more classical and conservative one, to defining a middle ground that can please the client while maintaining the artist’s creative signature.
One can see that Gavin’s use of color is a middle ground between the world of illustration and classical painting. He says he loves to experiment and play with colors in a simple and logical way. According to Glakas, the best way to approach color – which meets the basic requirements of hue, values, and saturation – is with a logical sense. It’s a process that takes time and practice but later allows one to approach colors quickly and intuitively.
If for the realization of a portrait he tends to make live sketches to lock in the likeness and proportions of the figure, trying to fix its brightness, posture, and facial expression; in the realization of a landscape or building Gavin performs an in-depth study, first in pencil or charcoal and then in color, focused on the study of perspective.
Having established the correct perspective study he makes compositional and color studies from life on his sketchbook, which he later reworks in his studio with the help of photographic images and a software program.
Among the most significant commissions completed by Glakas is “Sunrise in Manassas,” created for the cancer ward of Georgetown Hospital. In addition to its social value, the work also has emotional value for Gavin, who had his last lung cancer removal surgery there. “Every brushstroke, every bit of paint, and every stroke of the painting made me think about the ultimate goal: optimism and love to help people who are in a very difficult place like that.”
Among Gavin’s favorite landscape elements is the depiction of doors, gates, and people in motion. The doors in particular, which could be considered true still life compositions, arouse much fascination in the artist, who tries to reconstruct their history through detailed descriptions of the wear and tear of time.
Among the various galleries representing Gavin Glakas is Principle Gallery in Alexandria, VA, and Charleston, SC – a sort of fulfillment of his boyhood dream of exhibiting for this gallery.
“If your goal is to create works of art that can excite both yourself and others all you have to do is experiment and see what best can work for you.”
The article above is part of a series that features the best artists who are teaching others how to paint through online workshops at PaintTube.tv. Browse art workshops from Gavin Glakas here!
Become a Realism Today Ambassador for the chance to see your work featured in our newsletter, on our social media, and on this site.