January 8, 2012

Plinker, painter

Paul Wyse spent the first 30 years of his life learning the skills necessary to become the best concert pianist possible. It took him much less time to become a master portrait artist.

By Bob Keyes bkeyes@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 1)

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Paul Wyse in his Cape Elizabeth studio.

John Ewing / Staff Photographer

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Wyse's portrait of Leon Fleisher performing with the Syracuse Symphony Orchestra.

Courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery

Additional Photos Below

MORE INFO: wysefineart.com

The Smithsonian was drawn to Wyse for his ability to tell Fleisher's story through visual narration. For the setting for his portrait, he chose a concert hall at Syracuse University. Wyse painted Fleisher at the keyboard performing.

"We love to find a portrait that gives a visitor something more than a likeness. Sometimes that is all we have -- a face. But when we can, we like to expand that vision to add to the experience for visitors," Fortune said.

Joel is just the second living artist honored with a portrait at Steinway Hall, at 57th Street in Manhattan. Fleischer is the other.

Wyse did not receive special consideration for the painting jobs because of his association with Steinway, Losby said. He got the painting jobs because of his skills with the brush.

"His world of classical music and portrait painting coalesced so brilliantly," he said. "Of all the famous artists who have painted for us -- Wyeth and all the others -- no one has ever been a pianist, or a good pianist, as well as a portrait painter. He is very special."

In his research about art and music, Wyse found many artists who both play and paint, going back to Leonardo da Vinci. Someone more modern struck a chord with his sensibilities: John Singer Sargent.

Sargent was the leading portrait painter of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and strongly influenced Wyse's classical painting style. He considers Sargent an idol, and noted that he also had a special fondness for painting portraits of musicians.

Wyse prepared for his Joel portrait by spending the better part of a day with the rock star at his Long Island home. They hit it off well, and traded stories about playing. Over the course of several hours, he got to know Joel, and developed a feel for the singer's home.

He took many photos, then returned to his studio to begin preparatory sketches. Joel was involved throughout the process. He conferred with Wyse about poses, settings and other details. In the final painting, Joel stands off to the side of his piano, arms crossed and looking away. He is dressed casually in a leather jacket.

The painting is large -- 7 feet tall and 3 feet wide.

"He was a pleasure to work with, and surprisingly camera shy," Wyse said. "A lot of people assume celebrities would be perfectly comfortable having their portrait done, but that is often not the case."

Wyse described Joel as gracious and kind.

"We talked about music a lot," he said. "I grew up on Billy Joel music, so it was fun for me. He was my generation, for sure. When I was a teenager, he was the Lady Gaga of today."

Somewhat reluctantly, Wyse acknowledged to Joel his own skills on the piano.

Joel's reaction?

"He wondered why they weren't doing a portrait of me." 

Staff Writer Bob Keyes can be contacted at 791-6457 or:


Twitter: pphbkeyes


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Additional Photos

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Wyse's portrait of musician Billy Joel.

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Wyse's portrait of the composer Franz Liszt.


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