Story Jan Swoope | Photograph Luisa Porter
PORTRAIT OF ALEX — For an artist to select one piece, one single piece that somehow embodies his or her passion for the visual world, is tantamount to having to pick a favorite child. When Catfish Alley asked Mississippi artist Lee Gibson to do just that, however, she rallied to the challenge.
“I wanted to choose something that I truly love and am inspired by,” says Gibson, who made West Point her base for many years. She now lives in Starkville. The Connecticut native acclaimed for her vivid portraits, still lifes and landscapes in oil searched through a store of artwork for the one painting but could not decide.
“I said, well, I’ll worry about it later and went upstairs into my studio and boom, there it was — a picture I did years ago of my granddaughter at the beach, sitting on sand, trying to put her sandals on. That’s the piece I love.”
The 30-by-24-inch canvas is of then-2-year-old Alex Baldwin. It was painted from a photograph taken on a family vacation by the toddler’s mother, Nell Valentine, Gibson’s daughter. Alex is 16 now, but in the captured moment in time, she wore a yellow swimsuit and struggled with her shoes. To her grandmother, it was a “precious shot.” Several years would pass, though, before the artist would happen across the photograph one day and feel compelled to interpret it in oils.
“I feel like I really caught her at that moment,” Gibson says. “I feel like it’s Alex; there is even a little bit of her personality in it.” A good portrait should do that, translate the subject. “You should feel them,” says the painter who is influenced by her study in Paris, Vienna, Amsterdam, London, Rome and other art capitals of the world.
The portrait of Alex is unfinished, but finished, Gibson says. Instead of sand and sea, the child sits within a background of white, “which doesn’t bother me one twit, and doesn’t seem to bother anyone else,” her artistic grandparent says.
It’s a funny thing, she concedes. “I love it as it is. If I mess with it, and it’s wrong, I can’t go back. One day I may just finish it — and one day may not. One day I will make up my mind.”