When I was eleven, my father, who had wanted to be a painter, but became a salesman after he married my mother, brought me a little book of drawings by Ingres. He said that when I could draw like that, I’d be an artist. Of course I never could draw like Ingres, much as I wanted to, but the fact that my father admired him so much made me admire him, too.
As I got older, and saw more of his paintings in museums and books, I loved the smooth and silken way he applied paint to canvas, the intricate patterns that appeared so flawlessly executed (he abhorred the visible brushstroke), and the perfection of the folds and wrinkles in the clothing of the imperturbable people whose portraits he painted so perfectly. Then I wanted to paint just like him but, needless to say, I never did that either.
As I got still older, I began to see beneath the surface of his work and, for me, that became the most exciting and interesting part of what he did, and the true mark of his genius. A lot of Ingres’ work was very strange, and full of eroticism that had very little to do with the subjects of his paintings, portraits or panoramas, and everything to do with him.
I was especially drawn to his paintings of the harem. One of my favorites is La Grande Odalisque. The serpentine back (which critics of the day complained had three vertebrae too many), the soft, vulnerable feet, the delicate hand, but most of all that wary eye, all show a woman not in control of her life, and all too aware of it. None of the other painters of Orientalism suffused their paintings of the harem with so much helplessness and raw eroticism.
His own irrepressible impulses manifested themselves very clearly in his work. As controlled as it appeared on the exterior, it was uncontrolled just underneath. And that became my final goal for my own work.
John Auguste Dominique Ingres has been my role model since I was eleven, and he continues to be one today.