George Kennedy

This painting of George Kennedy was commissioned by his son, who also is named George. I did not know George Kennedy. He lived most of his life in Ohio. The challenge of this composition was to capture the character of the man as his son knew him. I met George (the son) at the Missouri State Fair where I was an artist in residence. When I later met him at the St. Louis Art Fair, George said he really loved my work and wanted me to do a painting of his father in my style. Months later he called me, and we set up a meeting so I could learn about his father and gather useful visual references in order to begin developing a composition. It was a challenge. The initial drawing was a good likeness, and I filled the space with important “things” that I thought represented his life. After showing this composition to George, he seemed disappointed. While I captured his image, I had not captured the spirit of his father. I was missing what a great guy he was to hang around with, his zest for life and love of sports. I fully understood. How do you depict who a man really is and not just his likeness?

I went back to work and after some time, I was able to create a much more heartfelt composition that captured the man. I wanted to anchor the composition with the large portrait of him wearing his beloved Ohio State Buckeyes hat. On George’s shoulder, at his son’s suggestion, is a leprechaun on whom I am told George would blame all calamities. To the left, he is having a cup of coffee and in conversation representing how much he enjoyed talking to others. To the right, I have depicted him rooting for his sports teams. Rather than one who jumped up and down, George was a bit more reserved in person, but I depicted him this way to capture his joy of life. Below this I showed him coaching one of his many little league baseball and softball teams. The scorecard in the background was based on an actual one George’s son showed me that was from 1957 when his dad played. In it he had hit a home run. George also enjoyed playing golf. He enjoyed dabbling in art and was known for often drawing the Crazy Guggenheim character on things signing it “OT” or “Old Timer” in reference to himself. To the far left, is George as an army medic, as indicated by the silver pin. I depicted the Korean Peninsula and referenced the famous thirty-eighth parallel dividing the North from the South to recognize the war in which he served. The Kroger hat represents the many years he worked there to make a living for his family. The crucifix is part of a beautiful and more extensive wood altarpiece that is in Saint Joseph’s Catholic Church in Alliance, Ohio where he and the family attended. The background of the composition depicts the beloved house and barn in which generations of his family were raised. Near the barn was a bench where George would often sit. In later years, the barn was converted into living quarters, and George stayed there. The sky is a mix of sunny clear blue, cumulus fair weather clouds representing the good times, while the dark and foreboding clouds remind us of the dark periods we all experience in life.

One of the artistic elements I employ is transparency. For me, its use can have different purposes depending on the context of the artwork. Here, I am using it to show the interconnectedness of George Kennedy’s life. Characteristic of my work is strong color and a full range of values creating solid forms. There is often much activity in my compositions. The viewer cannot absorb all the information in the composition in one setting and has to come back for more.