By Janelle Gelfand
Gone are the days when a subject would sit still for hours while his or her portrait was being painted. Artist Carin Hebenstreit spent about a half hour with Paavo Järvi, music director of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, as she began painting his portrait.
"Most of the time, I just take photographs," Hebenstreit said. "I'm already familiar with (Järvi), because I've seen him so much, heard him on the radio and read about him in the newspaper, I have a pretty good sense of who he is."
Järvi's portrait, celebrating his final season as music director, will be unveiled today at Music Hall. The portrait was commissioned for the orchestra by arts supporters Peter George Courlas and Nicholas Tsimaras.
The larger-than-life (60 inches by 48 inches) oil painting will hang permanently in Music Hall. Järvi's portrait joins six others: Cincinnati Symphony music directors Max Rudolf, Thomas Schippers and Jesus Lopez-Cobos, Cincinnati Pops conductor Erich Kunzel, May Festival music director James Conlon and Cincinnati Opera artistic director James De Blasis.
Hebenstreit, 64, says she had wanted to paint Järvi's portrait for eight years. In 25 years of portraiture, she has painted about 300 portraits, she estimates. They include former deans of the University of Cincinnati College of Law Gordon Christenson and Joe Tomain, a Federal Court Judge (the Honorable Art Spiegel), physicians, clergy, musicians, attorneys, industry moguls and patrons of the arts. Much of her commissioned work is of families with children, beloved pets or a mixture of both.
A small portrait, she says, may start at about $8,000.
Järvi is the second symphony conductor she has painted. The first was Rudolf, ironically Järvi's former teacher. Rudolf's portrait was commissioned when the late CSO maestro was inducted into the American Classical Music Hall of Fame in 1999. It hangs in Music Hall, and is a favorite of Järvi's.
When the artist met with the conductor to discuss her initial sketches, Järvi told her that there was one photo taken by local photographer Mark Lyons that he especially admired. Hebenstreit based the painting on that photo.
"He wanted it to be more contemporary, or what I interpreted as more edgy," she said. "I looked at publications with Paavo, and I noticed there is a theme with red. So the background is red, but tempered with black space."
From the initial sketch to completion, the portrait took about six weeks, she says.
As she spoke about her work, sunlight streamed into the living room studio of Hebenstreit's Springfield Township home. Portraits cover her walls. A large painting that she was working on for a client dominated one end of the studio.
One of her most challenging commissions, she says, was a 30-foot-long ceiling mural for a client's Indian Hill dining room. The mural, which she painted while standing on a scaffold and wearing a neck brace for protection, took her four months to complete.
Hebenstreit, who is married to artist Robert Hebenstreit, was born in Fulda, Germany, and moved with her family to Cincinnati at age 6. She studied art at the now-closed William E. Gephardt School of Art, named for a promient Cincinnati portrait artist.
Sculptor Richard J. Miller, whose work graces the campus of Xavier University and the Kentucky side of the riverfront next to the Roebling Bridge, was one of her mentors. Hebenstreit, who teaches community classes at the Art Academy of Cincinnati in Over-the-Rhine, said that her first love is sculpting. She picks up a nude sculpture she calls "Domestic Goddess."
Her paintings have a muted glow, capturing light and atmosphere that she developed from studying old masters, such as Rembrandt, Rubens, Goya and Velasquez.
"I just love getting into the heads of these artists, how they think and what turns them on," she said. "Think about a guy like Rembrandt, someone who was that powerful of a painter. They had the same problems that portrait painters have today. They have to capture a likeness and they have to please that client, or they're not going to get that check.
"And I think, boy, if Rembrandt was willing to do that, I can do that. I will jump through all kinds of hoops for people. I'm challenged by people wanting things, and they make me stretch, and go where I wouldn't normally go."