Larchmont artist Patricia Horing is to have a painting shown at the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C. Her work is one of 49 finalists, out of 3,300 entries, in the Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition 2009. The subject of the portrait: local plumber Herman Elvy.
Art of the Service Call
How did Mr. Elvy, 55, owner of Jacan Plumbing, Heating, Air-conditioning & Refrigeration Inc., in New Rochelle, come to strike a pose? With his Jamaican accent, Mr. Elvy explains, “Patty had a shower she needed me to fix and while I was doing that she asked me, ‘Herman, can I paint you?’ and I said, ‘Well…’ and after a pause I said, ‘Go for it!’”
“He’s right,” affirms Chicago-born Ms. Horing, 44. “Herman just dropped his equipment, said, ‘Where do you want me?’ and posed.”
High Water Marks
Judges who scored Ms. Horing’s painting as a winner include Wanda M. Corn, professor emerita in art history at Stanford University, and Peter Schjeldahl, The New Yorker art critic.
The portrait is part of the artist’s “Omnicient Narrator” series, explained on her website as: “Portraiture merges with text, as artist becomes author, gossip, and commentator.”
A 12″ x 16″ close-up (oil, collage, and pencil on panel) of Mr Elvy’s face, the portrait’s large text confides, “HERMAN OOZED CHARM LIKE A LEAKY PIPE DRIPS WATER.”
How does Mr. Elvy feel about a less than gushing remark soon to go global? “Patty called me and said, ‘Herman, come look at your portrait.’ And I did. And I said, ‘Oh my God.’ And she said, ‘Do you like it?’ And I said, ‘Yeah! That’s me!”
Still Waters Run Deep
In her top-floor studio, Ms. Horing pulls out works that reveal her thinking as a portraitist, a process she describes as seeming to spring from her almost overnight. She has never studied portraiture per se. She married in 1990, and for the next eight years was a partner in a Manhattan public relations firm. “After I had kids,” says the mother of two, “I stopped working eventually. And then about eight years ago I started painting.” She quickly settled on painting people. “I seem able to capture a likeness, and it’s something I really enjoy doing.”
Steady Course of Enthusiasm
People in her series were family and friends, and then in early 2007, she called for the shower repair. Though she usually takes a number of photos of a subject, Ms. Horing took one of Mr. Elvy. “I had a feeling about him that I wanted to express, and it kind of came out easily. “
“Herman was around a lot because we were doing construction, so he saw me painting,” she remembers. “He’s always so supportive and great. He’d be like, ‘You can do it! Just keep at it! Don’t worry what anybody says to you!’ “
“True!” proclaims Mr. Elvy. “You’ve got to get up every morning and give thanks and get going and keep at what you’re doing. Every moment something wonderful can happen. Just keep your energy and focus. And don’t let anything get you down.”
The portrait was complete in several weeks.
Mr. Elvy did not know that earlier, Ms. Horing had been passed over for a spot in a coveted artists program.
A Plan Takes Form
It was a director from the artists program who forwarded Ms. Horing information on the Smithsonian competition. “The criteria talked about what defines a contemporary portrait in America,” says the artist.
“And I started thinking that Herman in a lot of ways embodies the American Dream. He came here as an immigrant, he’s tireless, he’s inspiring, and he’s got four kids who are all accomplished and successful and lovely people.”
In Mount Vernon, Mr. Elvy and wife Sybil ‘s children, ages 26 to 37, include an architectural engineer, and graduates from Fordham University and Harvard Law School.
Her Early Critics: At Chatsworth Elementary
Momentum picked up last year when Ms. Horing participated in Chatsworth Elementary School’s program demonstrating what parents did professionally. She showed fifteen portraits, but one captivated. “So many parents and kids came up to me and said, ‘Is that Herman? We know him! He’s our plumber!”
Recalls Mr. Elvy, “I’d go into someone’s house and all the kids would yell, ‘I saw you at school! You’re a painting!’ It knocked me out.”
Hope Springs Eternal
Once Ms. Horing decided to enter the competition, submitting Mr. Elvy’s portrait by email in July 2008 “took two seconds,” she says. “It was kind of a lark. I didn’t give it much thought after that.”
In January this year, Ms. Horing learned she was among 102 semi-finalists. Two art handlers arrived in April. “They wrapped up Herman’s portrait and treated it like it was a precious relic and drove it to Washington, D.C.”
A few weeks ago came news that Ms. Horing’s painting goes on exhibit October 23, 2009, to August 22, 2010.
Reflections of a Winner
“It was a good lesson for me,” reflects Ms. Horing about her decision to enter the contest, and sounding vaguely familiar. “It made me realize that it’s important to be open to things. You know, you are going to get rejected–that’s part of putting yourself out there, but you never know where something could lead.”
Katherine Ann Samon lives in Larchmont and is author of “Ranch House Style” by Clarkson Potter. She writes articles on design and general interest, and has appeared in The New York Times.