Kennedy's latest exhibit is now through April 22 at The Players Centre for Performing Arts.
Dirce Kennedy’s home is covered in faces. Some are friends, and some are strangers-turned-subjects, but the colors and curves painstakingly personal to each visage make them more than just portraits.
They’re complete personalities captured in a single moment.
Kennedy, a native of Southern Brazil, got an early start on the creative front. Her father, also an artist, gave her drawing materials at the age of 2. For him, portrait painting was a hobby, but it soon became more than that for Kennedy.
After a career in the social sciences, Kennedy decided to take her art more seriously. Her first gallery show was in 1984 at the studio/gallery of artist Norga Mascaranhas in São Paulo. Then, Kennedy’s work was a variety of subject matters ranging from landscapes to still lifes.
It wasn’t until around 2012 that she decided to retreat to her earliest artistic inspiration: human expression.
She took a few classes from artists she respected, but Kennedy says she’s primarily self-taught, especially after her earliest lessons from her father.
“We learn (best) when we are doing,” she says.
Kennedy moved to Sarasota seven years ago with her husband, Richard, to be close to his sister. The couple was aware of the thriving local performing arts scene before moving, but they had no idea how many galleries and other visual art experiences awaited them.
After researching artist talks and classes, Kennedy discovered Art Center Sarasota. She perused a juried show and had her first Sarasota show at the center.
Soon she started to refine her artistic process, which goes one of three ways.
Option one is having a subject sit for her, allowing Kennedy to paint the person in real time. Option two is a mix of both sitting and going off a photo, and option three is going solely off a photo and never seeing her subject in person.
For pieces that aren’t commissions, Kennedy says she picks her subjects based on how they strike her when she first sees their face. If there’s something she finds particularly interesting about someone, regardless of where she meets them, she’ll ask if she can paint them.
Richard says he’s impressed by how his wife is seemingly always able to connect to her subjects.
“She ends up having a relationship with the person if they sit,” he says. “Sometimes it’s meant to just be one pose but it becomes seven because a friendship forms … She has the ability to see inside people.”
About two years ago, the Kennedys helped start ART Inside Gallery, a collaborative art space and occasional studio, with five other local artists: Karin Billings, Joanna Coke, Susan Hurwitch, Judy Kramer and Dalia Shyevitch.
“Everybody does something different,” she says of the six artists shown at ART Inside. “We complete each other … Being around other artists inspires you to do more. You feel that support and it’s healthy to work alongside them.”
The gallery is currently located inside The Golden Image at 30 S. Palm Ave., where one of the six artists is spotlighted every month. The space also hosts a free First Fridays reception every, as could be assumed, First Friday of the month in season. Kennedy says she enjoys these events because she can interact with art-lovers and explain her process — sometimes even doing live demonstrations for guests.
When speaking about her artistic style, Richard is quick to note that his wife’s goal is always to capture a subject’s true self.
“She doesn’t dress up the portrait, she tries to paint the person as is,” he says. “She doesn’t try to make them something they’re not. She’s capturing the external and internal.”
For Kennedy, it’s as simple as waiting what her eyes tell her to do.
“I think portrait is the way you see,” she says. “You could have 100 people paint you, but it’s always going to be different.”