SOUTH ORANGE, NJ — At its opening on Feb. 7, “Every Day People: The Art of Cathleen McCoy Bristol” became the first exhibit to be displayed in the South Orange Village offices, and 18 paintings by the Maplewood artist now line the hallway. Each piece features people, some real, some from Bristol’s imagination and some who are a combination of both. Bristol also paints landscapes but said she prefers to put people on her canvases.
“I’ve always been fascinated by people,” Bristol said. “I like watching people and learning about people. We’re not as different as everyone likes to think. So I see people through art and I like to paint that.”
Some paintings in the show, like “Critiquing Group,” are portraits of people Bristol knows. The people featured in the painting are those who give Bristol feedback on her paintings. She used a photo to guide her through painting the image on a canvas.
Other paintings have elements — like poses and positioning — of real people. “Sisters” and “The Apple” were based on photos of real people, but Bristol changed the faces and clothing to make them her own. Sometimes she just dreams up figures to paint.
“Sometimes they’re not even aware of it,” Bristol said about the subjects in her paintings. “I’ve had people stand next to paintings of themselves and they don’t even know it. They might not actually look that way; sometimes I use the poses and change the people.”
While many artists find faces and figures harder to achieve, but Bristol enjoys the test, saying she prefers painting people to landscapes.
“I like the challenge,” she said. “If we don’t challenge ourselves then we don’t grow. It’s my favorite subject because I like the variety; you can’t run out of it. No one exists in more than one place at a time, so it’s always different.”
When working from a photo, Bristol splits it into several parts to plan what the canvas will look like. She then sketches the figures and plans how the space on the canvas will be used. Color comes next and, as the painting comes together, Bristol adds detail.
Bristol is a board member of the 1978 Maplewood Arts Center in addition to the Arts Council of East Orange. The paintings in South Orange display people of all races, backgrounds and cultures, and she said they are a good representation of the population in South Orange and Maplewood.
“It’s a really creative community, so this brings it out even more,” she said. “It really shows who we are as a community.”
Photos by Amanda Valentovic