Joe Ongie – Artist/Musician

I have been asked many times why I primarily paint the human figure. The answer is simple: people interest me. A ride on the subway is a surreptitious study of faces and body language; a trip to the museum is a long walk in search of portraits and sneaking peripheral glances at the other viewers; a stroll down the street is a mental picture-taking ramble of the passersby.

The artists who inspire me (and rest of the world) are mostly figurative: Rembrandt, Velasquez, Vermeer, Degas, Sargent. The painters who are my personal touchstones and particular area of scholarship are all artists based in England (although not all of English descent): Holbein, Van Dyck, Lawrence, Raeburn, Orpen, Freud…

I think of myself as a subjective realist. I paint what I see, to a point. Beneath the veneer of the so-called “real” are abstraction and structures. Like the cartilage in an ear, they shape the visible surface into its recognizable form. Often what fascinates me most about a painting is the simple intersection of lines with the edge of the canvas and the small interlocking shapes of color. These rhythms become the real subject of my work. I would like to think that my paintings can be viewed as equal parts representation and abstraction. If they contain a narrative, it comes from an emotional connection I’ve made with the subject. Color is a combination of careful observation and intuitive harmonization.