CM: People usually remember portraits when the sitter is dear to them and when the manner of painting is striking. Indeed this is the case with Ronald N. Sherr's Portrait of ACG President Dr. John S. Bailey, which is by one of America's most accomplished portraitists, and whose subject is one of the highly respected educational administrators in Greece. To make a portrait of John Bailey is essentially to rewrite history. This name has been intrinsically linked with the reputable American College of Greece (ACG) for a great length of time – from 1975 to the present day. During Dr. Bailey's leadership this Boston-based collegiate institution made unparalleled advancements in terms of its real estate; facilities; student enrolment; and academic program with an inspired emphasis on the arts.
Dr. Bailey first met Sherr in 2006 at The Lotos Club (f. 1870) in New York. He saw Sherr's portrait of the Club's former President, John Suffek, and - through Laura DuPont - had the chance to see more of Sherr's work, which convinced him to commission this painter to do his portrait. Soon thereafter, Sherr saw Dr. Bailey at his New York studio. The President obviously travelled back and forth to Greece, but sat for Sherr half a dozen times, each sitting lasting three hours. Of course, the painting began from a sketch. Dr. Bailey posed for a preliminary drawing to scale. Sherr finished as much as he would from hand to head. In keeping with his idol painter John Singer Sargent (1856-1925), who would rarely let his clients see the painting's progress in order to concentrate at the work, Sherr painted for days before letting Dr. Bailey take a peek. He started the painting in tempera oil emulsion, and Dr. Bailey had the chance to see only the finished state of this early stage. The latter half of the work was continued in linseed oil away in Sherr's studio in Hong Kong, and was not seen by Dr. Bailey until the painting finally arrived at the College in Athens. Over time Sherr made countless changes to it, especially the background. The background was part of the painter's studio, but - by feel - Sherr increasingly rendered it abstract. As the portrait was about Dr. Bailey, Sherr felt he had to 'loose' more of the background, until it became ambiguous. Such background was ideally suited to receive Dr. Bailey's personality.
John S. Bailey has served as President of The American College of Greece since 1975. His length of service place him among the longest-serving presidents in American higher education worldwide. Prior to assuming the presidency of ACG, John S. Bailey first served as dean of University College at Northeastern University, and then as president of Nasson College, in Maine. During John S. Bailey's presidency, The American College of Greece, an independent not-for-profit, non-sectarian, co-educational institution, which was founded in Smyrna, Asia Minor in 1875, grew to comprise five divisions: Pierce College (junior and senior high school, fully recognized by the Greek Ministry of Education and Religious Affairs); Junior College and Dereee College (undergraduate divisions); the Graduate School, and the School of Continuing and Professional Studies. ACG was the first institution outside the U.S. to be accredited by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges – NEASC as an institution of higher education. Its facilities include a sixty-four acre main campus in Agia Paraskevi, a suburb of Athens, and a downtown campus near the city's center. "The tenure and record of accomplishment of President Bailey is unmatched in American education abroad," said Peter Thun, Chairman of the ACG Board of Trustees. "He assumed the presidency of The American College of Greece during a difficult period in its history, and through his educational and administrative skills has elevated it to the point that it is recognized throughout Europe as a premier American-sponsored educational institution. The contributors of President Bailey will be indelibly etched in the history of the College." On 5 June 2008 John Stephen Bailey, president of The American College of Greece for the past thirty-three years, was named chancellor of the College by ACG's Board of Trustees.
Sherr's prime concern in executing a portrait is arriving at a likeness that is not a literal interpretation, but feels like the person. He says "If I feel it, so will anyone else". Sherr had heard about Dr. Bailey from Laura du Pont, a representative of a portrait company and a friend of the President. However it was in the sittings that Dr. Bailey opened up. "You would be surprised how well I got to know Dr. Bailey in the sittings. We hit it off. We talked extensively and were very comfortable with each other." Sherr discovered in Dr. Bailey a noble man, gracious person and delightful individual, full of positive energy, and endowed with inner calm. This is exactly what the painter 'caught' on canvas.
"Each painting I do is different in terms of technique", admits Sherr. For Dr. Bailey's portrait Sherr chose a loose and artistic background. There is a painterly style to this portrait. This is the first time Sherr felt like 'loosing' the background and concentrating on character. In keeping with Sherr's aim, "The more I took away from the background, the more I discovered the person of Dr. Bailey".
The Portrait of ACG President Dr. John S. Bailey becomes indelible in the viewer's mind. To behold this portrait is to look straight into the eyes of leadership and humanity. With this painting Sherr has managed to represent the likeness of a person who is unique by virtue of his character and appearance. The painting presents the bust of President Bailey, appearing elegant in a dark suit, handkerchief in breast pocket, wearing a monochrome tie, and cufflinks complementing the sleeves of his shirt. The hands are clasped together in a gesture of gracious solemnity. The picture's focal point – brilliantly off center – is the eyes that look out towards the abstract vision of success. Regarding the choice of palette, Sherr admitted being unable to describe it, "the palette for a portrait is the specific feel I have for a person". Dr. Bailey's eyes are blue, which is known to be the color of the sky and the ocean. Blue however also symbolizes hope, which here extends to evoke inner calm, with which Dr. Bailey is known to identify. By looking carefully, one may notice how the color of the eyes are instrumental in the President's choice of the tie, and how it lends itself to highlights of varying bluish hues in every part of the painting.
From a distance the portrait appears naturalistic. Approaching this portrait for a closer look, the viewer may discern Sherr's exquisite brushstrokes, which are at once free yet masterful. This is especially so in the background, which epitomizes ambiguity – the left side resembles a seaside view as John Mallord William Turner (1775-1851) might have created it, while the right reveals the slight indication of a room, as much as Francis Bacon (1909-1992) would have revealed, yet the two strikingly different sides share the same firmament. Sherr's art is a painting of reconciliation, where harmony and balance serve one another to the best effect in a portrait of graciousness.
Everytime he engages with a portrait, Sherr determines its fate by 'living' with it. The making of Portrait of ACG President Dr. John S. Bailey spanned from 2007 to 2008, and Sherr put in it hundreds of hours. The picture's elegant gilt wood frame was custom made by Munn Framemakers, New York, according to Sherr's specifications. When Dr. Bailey saw the completed painting in Athens, he was overwhelmed by the portrait’s resemblance to him – not so much the external as the internal likeness. The entire College community feels indebted to Sherr for rendering so faithfully our institution's most dear President.
[Megakles Rogakos 06/2008]
ROGAKOS, MEGAKLES Silent Dialogues: Multimedia Portraits Throughout Time 2008 The American College of Greece - ACG Art, Athens