We’re in the business of making art, but painting, as in portraiture, is a bit out of our area of expertise. In Disgraced Emily, Amir’s wife, is an artist. At the beginning of the show we find her sketching her husband in the living room of their New York apartment. Inspired by an earlier incident, she has Amir posing in modern dress in the same manner as the subject in Diego Velazquez’s 17th century painting Portrait of Juan de Pareja. Suffice it to say we were in need of a painting, but not just any painting. Our props shop needed to make a portrait in the exact likeness of the actor portraying Amir and in the style of an old master no less!
The members of our props team are all certainly talented artists but this painting was not the only thing on their to-do list for Disgraced. Neither did our actor have the time to pose for it like Amir does in the play. That’s how Assistant Props Manager Frank J. Alberino found himself one afternoon directing a photo shoot in rehearsal hall B complete with lights, backdrop, wardrobe crew, and photographer. With a copy of the Portrait of Juan de Pareja hanging on the wall for reference, Frank posed his subject, actor Rajesh Bose, paying close attention to the details – position of fingers, visibility of cufflinks, the falling of shadows on the face, and especially the placement of his right arm. Between Frank’s minor adjustments the camera clicked away trying to catch a digital mimic of a 350-year-old piece of art. In 15 minutes it was over and then it was all up to Frank to turn a photograph into a painting.
Using Photoshop he took out the white background on the photo of our actor and fit in the background from the Portrait of Juan de Pareja in its place. He then texturized the image to appear as a painting rather than a photograph and matched its colors to those found in Velazquez’s painting. Once finished he sent it off to the printer. Voila! A painting! Well…not quite. There was just one small detail still missing – the printed painting is on paper, it needs to look like it’s on canvas.
This is where the magic of props comes in. A special canvas was made to mount the print on. On the front was a normal piece of foam board, but canvas fabric had been attached to the sides of the frame to make it appear as if it was a normal stretched canvas. But we can’t just glue a printed painting to a fake canvas and call it a day. It has to look as real as possible. “We used a gel medium on the print to create the depth of the brush strokes,” Frank explained. By painting on the layers of gel medium the fake painting feels like a real painting and under the lights reflects the small ridges and grooves normally present on the surface of a painting. “Using this process actually makes it easier to make adjustments to the painting as the lighting for the show is adjusted during tech rehearsal.” By the time you see the painting on stage our prop shop will have made sure you see its true colors, no matter the stage lighting. And that is how you paint a masterpiece without using any…well…paint.