Local artist paints community faces in new light

‘The Power of One’ will show at The Brush through February


Artist Glenn Szegedy talks about the portraits he painted of YouthBuild students and other people he knows, for his exhibit at the Brush Art Gallery, The Power of One. Portraits from left, students Liomare, Luka, Zha and Benyialise, artist Bob (partly hidden), and student Jasmine. (SUN/Julia Malakie)


By NICOLE DEFEUDIS | ndefeudis@lowellsun.com | Lowell Sun

PUBLISHED: January 21, 2020 at 6:02 pm | UPDATED: January 21, 2020 at 6:03 pm

LOWELL — Glenn Szegedy marvels at his faces — all 26 of them, each with their own story.

One is a chef, another a dental hygienist. One was a teenage mother and now manages a catering business. Another is an artist.

Szegedy painted real, “everyday” community members in a new light in his latest exhibit, titled, “The Power of One.” The portraits will be displayed at The Brush Art Gallery & Studios through Feb. 22.

“You don’t have to be a multi-billionaire or movie star to be important,” Szegedy said. His goal was to highlight the value of each of his subjects.

“These people all have mothers… they have dreams and aspirations,” he said. “To put them in an oil painting makes them important.”

About three years ago, the Dracut sculptor tried his hand at painting people. He looked to Google stock images for inspiration, but quickly grew bored. He needed real muses.

That’s when Szegedy began photographing acquaintances and other community members. He collected over 60 photos, and painted the ones that stood out to him. Twelve of the 26 portraits are of students in a YouthBuild student art class he teaches once a week.

YouthBuild provides G.E.D. preparation and vocational training to young adults ages 16 to 24 who have not completed high school. The art program serves as a safe space for the students to express themselves, Szegedy said.

“A lot of these kids have never been exposed to art,” he said. “They (often) go back to neighborhoods that aren’t the best. There’s a lot of pressure… It just gives them a downtime.”

During the weekly art class, Szegedy guides the students in whatever they choose to work on. This past holiday season, they constructed a manger and repaired figures in the city’s nativity scene downtown.

Szegedy pointed around the gallery to several of his former students’ faces, many of whom now have jobs.

“They say painting is three hours of looking and 10 minutes of painting,” Szegedy said. For this project, Szegedy did a lot of looking.

Szegedy painted each of his subjects with a serious demeanor. Some smile just slightly. “I wanted the person without a lot of emotion,” Szegedy said. “But some people are just so happy, you can’t not paint them smiling.”

When Szegedy started the project in 2017 from his home studio, he wasn’t quite sure of his goal, or the message. About midway through, he realized it was about celebrating individuals, while also recognizing our similarities.

“We’re all human beings,” he said.

“We’ve had a lot of nice responses,” James Dyment, executive director of the gallery, said of Szegedy’s installation. Passersby have said the large portraits, which can be seen from the gallery’s plate glass windows, are compelling, he explained.

“He (Szegedy) has been like a friend of The Brush for a while and I was excited when he told me he had this body of work…” Dyment said.

While an artist’s work is never complete, Szegedy said he’s happy with the exhibit. He’s proud of sticking with it, he said as he pointed out a dark spot in one of the portraits that would only be visible to its creator. “I find great comfort in just creating something,” he said.

“The paintings kind of take over and you stop thinking about what you’re doing,” he said.

The exhibit’s opening reception will take place Feb. 1 from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. The gallery is free to attend from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday and from 12 p.m. to 4 p.m. on Sundays.

“Being free and part of the National Park, it’s a godsend,” Szegedy said of The Brush. He invited all of his Youthbuild students to see their portraits at the gallery.

Szegedy hopes to take the installation elsewhere after Feb. 22. “I would love to see it out and about and somewhere else,” he said.

But in the meantime, it’s on to the next project — whatever that may be. “It gives me a little sanity in an insane world,” Szegedy said of making art.