Artist Simmie Knox, Named to Paint Official Clinton Portrait, Now
Completing UAlbany Commission of H. Patrick Swygert
Contact: Vincent Reda, 518-437-4985
ALBANY, N.Y. -Simmie Knox, a Washington, D.C., artist selected to paint
the White House portrait of former President Bill Clinton, is now at
work on a University at Albany commission to paint the official portrait
of former UAlbany President H. Patrick Swygert. Swygert, now president
of Howard University in Washington, served as the University at Albany's
president from 1990 to 1995 before moving to Howard.
Knox has built his reputation on likenesses of such individuals as
the late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, former New York
City Mayor David Dinkins, boxer Muhammad Ali and entertainer Bill Cosby
and family. A graduate of Tyler School of Art at Temple University in
Philadelphia, he has specialized in oil portraiture since 1976.
Knox said he was delighted at the opportunity to know and paint Swygert.
"I was extremely excited about it because I had been wanting to contact
President Swygert on my own and see if I could do a portrait of him,"
said Knox, whose studio is a converted garage at his home in suburban
Silver Springs, Maryland. "He is a leader in the community, and I have
great admiration and respect for him."
Knox said he had already begun work on the Swygert portrait when he
learned he had been selected by the White House to paint the Clinton
portrait. Shortly before Christmas, Knox showed Clinton his portfolio
and snapped some photos of the outgoing president. In January, he returned
to the White House with a study in oil showing five different poses.
"(The president) looked at my studies and kept saying, "I love it, I
love it," Knox said.
Knox indicated he will finish the Swygert portrait before turning his
attention to the White House commission. In January, Knox said that
he had already met once with President Swygert at Swygert's home to
discuss the project and take some photos. The artist said he typically
has three meetings with the individuals he paints, and that the finished
product can take anywhere from a week to two months.
"There is lots of prep work involved. President Swygert is like a lot
of the people I have painted - he doesn't have time to sit for two hours
on several occasions, so I rely on photos and sketches," said Knox.
Once completed, the Swygert portrait will be installed with those of
other University at Albany presidents on the second floor of the University
Library, according to Art Museum Director Marijo Dougherty, who made
the arrangements with Knox. Other portraits include those of Evan R.
Collins (president from 1949 to 1969) by Philip Pearlstein, Vincent
O'Leary (1977-1990) by Joan Semmel, John M. Sayles (1939-1947) and William
Milne (1889-1914), both by David C. Lithgow; and Abram R. Brubacher
(1915-1939) by Edward P. Buyck. Oil portraits of 19th century UAlbany
presidents going back to the school's founding in 1844 were lost in
a fire in 1906 which destroyed the old Willett Street Building in downtown
Swygert said he considered it "a great honor" to sit for Knox, and
he is grateful to the University for commissioning the portrait. "The
real challenge facing Simmie Knox is my directive to him to make sure
that I appear tall, handsome, suave, debonair and learned," Swygert
Knox became the first African-American commissioned to paint an official
portrait of a Supreme Court Justice in 1989, when he painted Thurgood
Marshall. He has also painted likenesses of U.S. congressmen and state
senators, former U.S. energy secretary Hazel O'Leary, civic leaders,
sports figures, educators, religious leaders, military officers, businessmen
and private individuals.
"I get excited about all of the portraits I do. I'm always interested
in people, and I like getting to know each of the people I paint," he
The 65-year-old Knox said he turned to portraiture after years of painting
a variety of subjects because he found there is nothing more interesting
to paint than the human face.
"I think that a good portrait is the most difficult thing for an artist
to bring off successfully. Not only must you get an accurate likeness,
but you must create a good painting. Somehow, you must convey a subject's
character, spirit and personality; and everything must communicate the
dynamism of the subject," he said.
To reach Simmie Knox's website, click on http://www.simmieknox.com.
For more information about the University at Albany, go to http://www.albany.edu.
February 28, 2001
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