Saturday, December 14, 2013
Somerville Artist Matthew McCosco: Portrait of a Portrait Artist By Doug Holder
By Doug Holder
Matthew McCosco by his own description is a private person, and being interviewed is not his favorite pastime. However he agreed to be my subject after I was introduced to his work by Gil Barbosa, owner of The Book Shop in Ball Square—right across from the office of The Somerville Times. In Barbosa’s fine, independent bookstore I noticed the usual eclectic collection of books, but also accomplished pencil sketches (That McCosco recently framed) of such noted authors as Ernest Hemingway, Edgar Allen Poe, and Mark Twain.
Because of a hand injury some years back the artist perfected his pencil sketches because he was unable to do his usual watercolors. I asked McCosco about his method; he told me: “I like the preciseness of the pencil sketch. I am able to have much more control of a person’s face. The shadowing of the face is very important. I apply graphite, and smudge it in the contours—I shade and smudge.”
After viewing a number of his sketches, I was impressed how McCosco captured the eyes of his subject—the eyes being the windows of the soul, etc… McCosco told me he makes a very detailed study of a subject’s face, usually relying on a photograph. This process--the measurement of the eyes--can take many hours. And to maintain a clear head McCosco has to take periodic breaks during this arduous procedure. His portrait of Mark Twain was more difficult to undertake than, say, of Hemingway because there are a limited number of photos of Twain, and the quality of the photos are not as sharp as more contemporary images usually are.
McCosco grew up in Cambridge, Ma. and now lives in the Winter Hill section of the city. He said his style is hyper realistic – a style that requires photographic precision. He feels that many of the artists in Somerville are impressionistic—putting their personal view into the image. McCosco likes being around all the artistic fervor that Somerville has to offer, and it informs his own work.
McCosco studied at the Pratt Institute in New York City, and has done work for the Alvin Alley Dance Company, as well as creating tourist brochures for the city of Brookline. McCosco feels the best way to learn the craft is through the life and practice. He feels his formal education has taken second place to his practical one.