This story was featured in the August 2014 issue of Southwest Art magazine. Get the Southwest Art August 2014 print issue or digital download now–then subscribe to Southwest Art and never miss another story!
When Bryce Billings decided to attend the Portrait Society of America’s annual conference, held in April in Reston, VA, he had to take a few days off from his job as foreman on a construction project near Salt Lake City, UT. The trip to the conference turned out to be a life-changing event. When Billings returned home, he promptly quit his job, and since then he has painted feverishly, he says.
At the conference, the artist’s emotionally powerful painting, A FATHER’S DREAMS AND A SON’S LOVE, won the Grand Prize, selected from an impressive array of works by top figurative artists from across the country. The award, Billings says, was a complete surprise, and it gave him the encouragement to pursue what he had always dreamed about as a child—becoming a full-time artist.
The painter says that although he studied art at Salt Lake Community College and the University of Utah, he also had to make a living and support his family. With physically demanding work during the week and joint custody of his son on the weekends, there wasn’t much time left for art. But he grabbed a few hours when he could and studied works by favorite figurative artists such as William Whitaker, Sean Cheetham, and Tammy Callens. His mission as an artist, he says, is to create works that capture the spirit and emotional life of his subjects so that “viewers feel a connection to the person portrayed in the painting.”
For his Grand Prize-winning painting, Billings posed his son on the top of a file cabinet. He also constructed a life-size mannequin, which he jokes was his son’s “twin brother,” to use when the boy wasn’t available to pose. “The painting reflects significant life changes and struggles,” Billings says. “On a deeper level it represents the bond between me and my son and what we have been through. I wanted to show the unbreakable love that is between us. Sometimes I feel as if I carry him, but sometimes I feel like he carries me and has my back.” —Bonnie Gangelhoff
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