|Photo by Robin May|
Artist Clay Judice Jr. shows us the art of expression.Clay Judice Jr. is a face man. It's clear when you behold one of his pieces. Full of life. Full of a kind of depth that makes you wonder how well he must know this person. It's true even of the pieces from his hand portraying icons like Audrey Hepburn or Abraham Lincoln.
"I have a fascination with the human face," Judice says.
Judice is an educated artist. Finishing in visual arts from UL in 2002, the now fireman has been drawing since before he can remember.
"My mom says I was drawing at 3 years old," Judice says. "We always had a sketch book in the house and I have a twin brother and he also draws. There would be one page that was all cowboy heads and they all looked so different. Some had beards and all had different hats and different expressions. I've always been fascinated with the face."
In college, Judice began studying architecture but soon found his way to visual arts where he was into print making. Looking for direction, he found himself often doing self portraits.
"It was convenient. You're always available," he says with a laugh.
He would take tons of digital photos with different expressions and whip out little 15-minute sketches and convert them to print.
"I was exploring human emotion and different ways to express that with charcoal and that's where my style originated," he says.
Over the years he has polished the look but says those early ones were some of the most powerful things he's ever done.
"They still inspire me today," he says.
It wasn't long before professors urged Judice to drop the print making and focus on charcoal. And soon, encouraged him to take things up in scale. He moved from drawing on 8" by 10" to 22" by 30" and found the impact blew people away. Now he creates portraits on 30" by 44" like the ones in Michelle Odinet's home.
After Judice finished college he didn't pick up a pencil for three years. He worked building houses and started a family (four children now ages nine to one). But, a run in with an artist and friend would send Judice back to his charcoal roots.
"He asked if I was going to be one of the statistics," Judice says. "There's a large percentage of artists that graduate and never make art again and I said no, that won't be me.' That was my motivation for me to pursue my art career."
That was seven years ago. Since then, he's become a sought-after portrait artist with the greatest challenge being his effort to balance work, family and art. He works mostly from his house with a new office space on University serving as a studio as well. He is long on ideas. Short on time.
"I've got a huge list in my head that I want to do and put in charcoal," he says pointing to his hopes of getting more into creating prints and editions of pieces. "I've been wanting to paint forever. But, there's the time thing."
Despite a tight schedule and busy life, he has made time to draw his family members.
"I've done each of my kids several items already except the youngest. I love doing family members and through doing them and seeing how people translate photos into portraits ... it gave me more confidence to do pieces from a single photograph. You can still capture their likeness and personality and that came through working on my own kids several times," he says.
Judice is often creating a portrait of someone using one photograph. And as he explains his approach to finding the photograph you begin to understand why his pieces give the feeling that he knows each one.
"I like to find pictures of them that I find interesting and work from that instead of just a typical head shot you would find. My favorite are the two extremes. The dead pan look into the camera with no emotion. It's showing so much. Those look more into the soul than a typical camera smile. Then the other extreme is very exuberant and a lot of emotion and the big gaping smile. Those are the two I'm most fascinated with."
And clearly what fascinates Judice has captured our attention as well.