It’s about face for artist Simon at Dover Public Library

orty of Wilmington artist Paul Simon’s larger-than-life portraits on display throughout the first floor of the Dover Public Library through Sept. 7. A reception and demonstration by Mr. Simon is set for Sunday from 1 to 4 p.m. at the library on Loockerman Street. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

DOVER — The arts were a hobby of Wilmington artist Paul Simon for many years before becoming his sole focus.

“I had been doing art on and off for years but it was very sporadic and undisciplined,” he said. “All of it has always interested me, though. I’ve taken classes in all areas from painting and sketching to ceramics.”

But now, he’s accumulated quite the library of portraits, 40 of which are on display on the first floor of the Dover Public Library through Sept. 7. A reception and demonstration by Mr. Simon is set for Sunday from 1 to 4 p.m.

Mr. Simon is a retired biopharmaceutical discovery and research manager.

“Once I retired from being a scientist, I looked for volunteer opportunities and began working with the Jewish Family Services’ Brandywine Village Network, which provides transportation and other forms of aid to individuals still living independently,” Mr. Simon said.

“I saw so many new faces that intrigued me and I was inspired to paint them.”

When Mr. Simon meets someone he’s interested in painting, he takes several photos of their face on his iPhone to use for reference when he gets to work on his larger-than-life portraits. His faces usually fill the frame and accentuate the character of the person, thus using the “true look” approach.

The creative process begins as soon as he opens the camera app, when he carefully decides which angles to capture and how to frame the face. He continues to sketch the image once he gets to his easel using a grid system to get the proportions just right before the actual painting begins.

Using pastels and textured paper, Mr. Simon gets to work painting layer over layer using fixative sprays to prevent overworking the paint on his portraits that are in some cases up to 4 feet across.

“Every part of the process is interesting to me,” Mr. Simon said.

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“I think it does become more interesting closer to the end though, when you’re getting closer to the finished product. You look at it and evaluate if you’ve captured the subject’s features effectively and have you created something interesting.”

Although painting portraits, Mr. Simon said that photorealism, exact likeness and idealization are not his goals, which sometimes gains negative reactions from his subjects.

“When people think about a painting of themselves, in many cases, they think of an embellished portrait of themselves, an ideal image,” he said.

“And then some people do like to see more of a raw, unembellished piece. But it’s different when it’s a portrait of yourself and not some stranger.”

Most of his subjects are the elderly individuals from the Brandywine Villages Network, but he has also painted a fair share of family and friends.

Mr. Simon tries to capture his subjects’ personalities in the portraits, which is more than what their face looks like.

Many of the people who artist Paul Simon tries to capture with his art are from the Jewish Family Services’ Brandywine Village Network in Wilmington, where he volunteers. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

“I want to capture an expression and that twinkle in their eye,” he said. “I want there to be an impact of some kind when you see one of my portraits looking back at you.”

Since he is now retired from his life as a scientist, Mr. Simon is enjoying the amount of time he is able to spend painting and how productive he has become.

“It’s quite a deviation from my professional life,” he said. “It’s been an amazing experience to experiment with this broad, interesting creative process.”

The Dover Public Library at 35 E. Loockerman St.

Ashton Brown is a freelance writer living in Dover.

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