Heather Delzell is a Denver-based artist and art teacher whose figurative paintings of men and women “project a courtly international sensibility with rich symbolism,” according to her website. When I decided to have a new portrait of Arcangelo Corelli made for the Baroque Chamber Orchestra of Colorado’s third album, Corelli’s Circle, she was the natural person to ask. Fortunately it did not take much to persuade Heather, for whom Baroque music (and other musical genres) is a big part of her life!
Recently I had the opportunity to talk with Heather about the project of painting a portrait of Corelli as if he were alive and making music in 2019.
What are you currently involved in as an artist/teacher?
I refer to myself as a figurative representational painter. I predominately paint females, and my subject matter is “transcendence.” I portray people who live now, but the costumes, the settings, the colors, the gestures are all echoes of Baroque painting. I also teach privately and at the Regis High School girls’ division. My main interest there is teaching old masters’ drawing and oil painting techniques. I’ve actually learned many of my teaching techniques from music teachers. Like music, to learn art you need to learn nuts and bolts… and then how to be expressive.
What interested you about this project?
I love Baroque music, and nothing delighted me more than doing a CD cover for BCOC and this incredible group! So much of my painting is a modern take on Baroque work. I love the fact that “Baroque” is a Portuguese word for a misshapen pearl. In painting, this manifested itself in depicting the human figure as flawed and messy, very real… sometimes even frightening. I love to paint people who have been through difficult times and are able to come out the other side and hopefully help others. I saw Corelli as that type of person. No one can create with that much depth without experiencing a lot of pain and joy.
What is similar or different from your other art?
The main difference is the person portrayed is male! I don’t paint males often because I am not male myself, and I want to be authentic. For me to tell men’s stories – I need to be very sensitive in how I do that. It wasn’t difficult though, because musicians have to harness their female and male sides to create something that is their own.
How did you go about developing a concept of a “contemporary Corelli?”
I thought of him as if we were great friends. We would talk about the things that old friends do: life and love, what we are making, what’s hard and what’s going well, our insecurities and our triumphs. I wanted to see if I could portray some of that, and one of the ways you can do that is in the human face. I wanted him to look directly at us. A hooded eyelid gives a more pensive and reflective quality; a mouth looks most human when it’s not perfectly symmetrical. The use of blue was a nod to the Baroque. Ultramarine blue was the most valuable color since lapis was so rare, and it was used especially when depicting Mary and the celestial. The position of the violin in the portrait is very modern… and very masculine, like a tie or a cross.
What music do you listen to? Does music influence your art?
I have really eclectic tastes. I listen to jazz and classical and lots of older music from France and Spain; it absolutely affects my work. If I knew how, I wouldn’t have to paint it! I always listen to music while I paint, 100 percent of the time.