Artist calls painting portrait of pope ‘a spiritually rewarding experience’
CAMDEN, NJ (CNS) – As a boy who kept filling his notebooks with drawings, George Perez said to his father, “My dream is to have my artwork in a museum.”
Both parents supported his artistic ambitions and sent him to the High School of Art and Design in New York City. But his father didn’t want his son to be a starving artist. Do you have a “plan B,” he advised. A good mechanic can always get a job, he said.
But Perez didn’t want Plan B. “I had this fire. I had this passion for art, ”he told Star Herald, a Catholic newspaper for the Diocese of Camden.
Perez doesn’t have paintings on the walls of the Met, the Guggenheim, or any of the other museums he’s visited in New York.
But he was able to tell his devout Catholic father – before his recent death at the age of 90 – that he is now in the company of Michelangelo, Raphael, Leonardo da Vinci, and other great artists whose work belongs to the Vatican.
One of his paintings, a picture of Pope Francis, was recently given to the Pope as a gift.
“He was so excited. That’s what makes it so special, ”said Perez, remembering telling his father the news. He noted that his wife commented that the Vatican, with its vast holdings, was “the largest museum in the world”.
Perez, an artist from Vineland, New Jersey, was hired by the Global Solidarity Fund, a nonprofit group to fight poverty, to paint a portrait of Pope Francis last December. The painting was supposed to be a gift for the Pope.
The person who brought the artist and the nonprofit together was Patrick McGrory, a member of the Global Solidarity Fund Board and Camden Diocesan Finance Council. He and Perez’s 40-year-old wife Donna have worked together professionally and he admires the artist’s talent.
When the Global Solidarity Fund was looking for an artist, McGrory showed representatives a painting Perez had painted of the singer Patrizio Buanne and his favorite saint, Saint Pio of Pietrelcina, or Padre Pio as he is best known.
Receiving the contract, Perez did quick and extensive research on nonprofits and Pope Francis, who had worked with McGrory, and came up with a concept that would convey the Pope’s loving concern for the poor around the world: he would become the Pope in the company painting of Jesus, St. Francis of Assisi and people of different ages and ethnic groups.
The canvas shows a total of 18 people. The Norman Rockwell style oil painting also features a detailed reproduction of Pope Francis’ pectoral cross, which features an image of the Good Shepherd.
After the concept was approved, Perez went to work feverishly. Given the time it took oils to dry, frame the work and send it to Rome, Perez only had two weeks to paint.
“That was crunchtime. I had a large pot of coffee next to me. I had to use every minute of these two weeks, ”said Perez with a laugh.
“I took some time to speak to my wife and maybe have dinner, but I just had to focus on the picture,” he added. “I was very happy to have met the deadline.”
The project was challenging but also inspiring, said Perez.
“I thought, ‘There’s the Pope – he’s actually going to touch my painting. How about? “, Asked he. “To be able to illustrate the Pope’s vision and tell a story about helping the poor to draw his cross and the story it tells from scriptures – it was a spiritually rewarding experience. This wasn’t just another job. I was there mentally and physically. “
Perez has three children, three grandchildren and one more on the way. In addition to portraits – many athletes and entertainers – he has done book illustrations, logo design, murals and caricatures. His website www.gparts82.com shows the diversity of his work.
While working on his painting of the Pope, he searched the internet until he found a statue of Saint Francis of Assisi that he wanted to work on. “I made a tweak. The eyes were closed. I wanted his eyes to be open – and he was smiling, ”said Perez.
Originally, representatives of the Global Solidarity Fund were supposed to bring the painting to the Vatican themselves and present it to Pope Francis during a meeting. However, the trip was canceled due to the coronavirus. As a result, Vatican officials presented the work of Pope Perez.
The artist soon received photos of a room in the Vatican that contained a painting on the wall, a statue on a pedestal, and on an easel his portrait of the Pope surrounded by Jesus, the people of the world, and a smiling Saint Francis.
“I look forward to sharing these pictures with you,” said Perez in a message containing the pictures posted on his Facebook page on February 27. “It is so overwhelming to see a work of art in the Vatican. Humble to say the least. “
The photos show the flesh and blood of Pope Francis, who is apparently delighted as he examines the painting.
Like his picture and the saint whose name he took, the Pope smiles.
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Peters is the editor-in-chief of the Catholic Star Herald, the diocese newspaper of Camden.