During the summer of 2021, Truro artist Amy Kandall painted more than 50 life-size portraits of artists, gallerists, restaurant owners, and other creative people who live on the Outer Cape. “It was an antidote to the isolation I was feeling after Covid,” she says. She called her endeavor the “Portrait Project” and named the resulting collection of Outer Cape subjects “Movers, Shakers, and Makers.”
Each one of the portraits was done in three hours. “I booked people in on a calendar,” she says. “Like a haircut. We started at three and ended at six, and the painting was done when the time ran out.”
For these sessions, she used oil paint on canvas. All of the paintings are four feet by four feet — Kandall says that artist Alice Neel’s work influenced that decision. Neel, whose career spanned the 1920s to 1980s, painted large portraits of her friends, family, artists, and strangers. “Her work was up at MOMA a couple of years ago,” Kandall says. “When I saw it, it reminded me that big is just awesome. I want everything to be really big and really loose.”
Kandall titles her work with her subjects’ first names only, the better to let the works stand on their own as paintings, she says. “I’m trying to catch the flavor of who a person is,” says Kandall. “My challenge is to do them justice from a painterly point of view. It’s not just a painting of this person. It’s a good painting.”
In Tony and Raina, chefs Tony Pasquale and Raina Stefani recline. They both look sideways, seeming preoccupied. Tony, who Kandall describes as a “fantastic, hilarious character,” runs Terra Luna restaurant in North Truro. The two worked together there before Raina went on to other projects. She is now the chef at the Crown & Anchor’s Balena restaurant in Provincetown.
“They’ve been restaurant buddies forever,” Kandall says. “During the session, I heard so many stories about being in restaurant work and what it is to serve the tourist community and still keep your soul.”
In Berta and Bob, Provincetown gallerist Berta Walker and Wellfleet artist Bob Henry sit side by side in dark chairs. Their expressions are intense; two pairs of blue eyes meet the viewer’s gaze; shadows deepen the lines of their foreheads.
“They’ve been friends since the ’70s,” Kandall says. Walker has long shown Henry’s work, and their connection is present in the piece: Berta and Bob’s fingers touch, and they seem to share a point of view. Observing the painting, the viewer almost feels as if she is interrupting something. “It was so much fun to be a fly on the wall while they talked about their youth together,” Kandall says.
For the portrait project, Kandall asked all of her subjects the same question: “What is your relationship to this place?” Predictably, everyone went off on a different tangent, she says, but some themes came up repeatedly. “Everybody seemed to think that they don’t fit in anywhere else,” she says. “The Cape draws open-minded people who are trying to make it in unconventional ways.”
Of course, the Cape drew Kandall, too. She grew up in New York City and went through the SUNY college system, never doubting what her pursuits would be, she says. “I was painting portraits of my friends in high school,” she says. “And I’m still painting portraits of my friends.”
Twenty-five years ago, she moved to the Outer Cape. Living in Truro, she’s worked as a painting and ceramics teacher at Nauset Regional High School for over two decades. She thinks of herself as an artist, educator, and community activist. Her art is a form of activism, she says. Her paintings are a documentary where she visually records the time she’s spent with people here, particularly young people and elders.
“I’m interested in what everybody has to say,” she says. “I feel that somehow my paintings can bring that across.”
Kandall’s upcoming show at Wellfleet Preservation Hall, opening Sept. 29, follows close on an exhibit of her portraits that closed Sept. 4 at the Commons in Provincetown. But the selection of “Movers, Shakers, and Makers” to be displayed at the hall will include many who live in Wellfleet.
“What I love about the hall is that it’s a community space,” Kandall says. “This body of work is almost site-specific. It needs to be seen and observed here.”
A newer project documents Kandall’s own family. Working with gouache — “very much like oil paint but water soluble, like an opaque watercolor” — Kandall painted images from her own family photographs over the pages of a field guide of North American birds published in 1925.
The pages are small compared to her portrait project canvases — only 9 by 12 inches. “It feels like an ancestral field guide,” she says. Paintings from that “field guide” will also be on view at Preservation Hall.
One page, titled Birds of a Feather, depicts a painted woman standing behind the field guide’s original perched owls. This is Kandall’s grandmother, Hortense. “She died when I was really young,” Kandall says. “I think of her as a sort of matriarch.”
Like the subjects of Kandall’s portrait project, Hortense is depicted in thick strokes and bold colors. Her face portrays an emotion that’s tangible yet just out of reach. This is where her work is going, she says: “I’m interested in creating connections with layered imagery that feels more psychological.”
Kandall says she often paints owls. “I wanted Hortense to be with the owls,” she says. “Like the goddess Athena, who doesn’t go anywhere without her owls.”
Movers and Makers
The event: An exhibit of portraits by Amy Kandall
The time: Sept. 29 through Oct. 31; opening reception Thursday, Oct. 5, 5 to 7 p.m.
The place: Wellfleet Preservation Hall, 335 Main St.
The cost: Free