“Like trying to set up a banquet tent in a hurricane at night.” That’s how Guelph artist Greg Denton, MFA ’96, describes his summer, painting at least two, and sometimes up to four, oil portraits in a day, all within about an hour.
As the city’s 2015 artist-in-residence, Denton was commissioned to complete a public art project marking the centennial of the writing of In Flanders Fields by Guelph poet John McCrae.
For “100 Portraits/100 Poppies: Sitting in Remembrance,” Denton, an instructor in U of G’s School of Fine Art and Music, painted portraits of local military personnel, veterans and cadets, as well as people affected by war or inspired by the century-old poem. Each subject is in uniform where applicable, and wearing a poppy.
Lining up 100 portrait sittings over two months this past summer was the easy part, although a few appointments had to be rescheduled, including a sitting for one war veteran who underwent heart surgery.
Besides the exhausting daily regimen, painting in various public locations across the city also saw the artist contending with fickle outdoor light, over-inquisitive passersby and other distractions. Despite the challenges, Denton found the experience deeply rewarding.
“I thrived on the stress and frenzy, and the immediacy of public feedback, participation and engagement made it an overwhelmingly positive experience,” he says.
By early September, Denton completed the array of works for a pop-up storefront display at Guelph’s Market Commons with portrait No. 100: Second World War veteran and former U of G president William “Bill” Winegard, pictured here.