After 70 years, Jesus remains Irondequoit artist's favorite subject - Catholic Courier

After 70 years, Jesus remains Irondequoit artist’s favorite subject

IRONDEQUOIT — Stanley Gordon has captured the likenesses of dozens of famous people during the course of a portrait-painting career that has spanned seven decades. His favorite subject, however, is someone that has never sat for one of his portraits.

This subject is none other than Jesus Christ himself.

“Nobody today has the influence he has,” said Gordon, who so far has painted 17 different portraits of Jesus.

One of these portraits was made famous by Rochester entrepreneur Dan Morgan, who died in September 2006. Before his death, Morgan had thousands of prints made from the portrait and sold them on the cable-television shopping network QVC and through a Web site, Mail-order company Avon also produced and sold thousands of the prints, said Gordon, who belongs to St. Thomas the Apostle Parish in Irondequoit.

Billed on the Web site as “the best-selling portrait of Jesus in modern time” with more than 280,000 prints sold, Gordon’s portrait features a Jesus with dark hair and piercing blue eyes. In a televised commercial for the portrait, Kevin Gordon — the artist’s son and fellow portrait painter — describes the painting as a divinely inspired “keystone” in his father’s career.

The elder Gordon’s interest in art was piqued when he was a child growing up in a poor family before and during the Great Depression.

“I liked to draw. I copied from the cartoons we had in the paper,” recalled Gordon, 88. “My mother gave me a lot of paper and pencils and kept me busy.”

Gordon’s uncle, Joseph Jablonski, also was an artist, and Gordon remembers seeing his uncle’s work hanging in his grandfather’s home. Later, Gordon studied art at Mechanics Institute — which later became known as Rochester Institute of Technology — and spent two summers studying with famed portrait painter Wayman Adams.

In 1944 Gordon traveled to the Washington, D.C., area to paint portraits of the family of a military commander he’d met while in school. Soon after that he began working with USO Camp Shows Inc., traveling to the United States’ military bases in the Arctic region to sketch the servicemen stationed there.

“That was an incredible experience, to sit down and do a charcoal sketch of one of the military boys. I did about 1,000 of them,” Gordon said.

He returned to the United States in 1947 and was then sent to veterans’ hospitals throughout the country, where he sketched portraits of the wounded. Gordon continued to sketch and paint portraits even after he’d returned home, and his passion for his career has never left him.

“This is my world. This is where I work,” he told the Catholic Courier as he stood in his studio surrounded by portraits of family members, friends and famous people.

His career has led him to paint such well-known figures as Pope John Paul II; Pope John XXIII; Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen; former presidents George H.W. Bush, Jimmy Carter, John F. Kennedy and James Monroe; newspaper publisher Frank Gannett; Xerox Corp. founder Joseph C. Wilson; grocery magnate Robert Wegman; and Col. Patrick O’Rorke, a Civil War hero and the namesake of one of Rochester’s bridges over the Genesee River.

Gordon said he prefers to have his subjects sit for their portraits rather than using photographs of them, but noted that it is not always possible, especially in the cases of historical figures who have long since passed away. Nonetheless, Gordon said he never works directly from photographs.

“When I have to work from a photograph I don’t copy it, but I add different things to it to make it more interesting and to make it look like a sitting,” he said.

Gordon didn’t have the luxury of referencing a photograph when, shortly after his return from overseas, he painted his first portrait of Jesus as a gift for his mother.

“One day she said, ‘I need a portrait of Jesus in the house. I’m going to go to the religious store and buy one,’ Gordon recalled. “I said, ‘Now, wait a minute. Let me paint you your own portrait.'”

“Now, I had never painted one of Jesus, but I knew who he was,” added Gordon, who grew up in Rochester’s St. Stanislaus Parish.

Gordon painted the image of God he pictured in his mind, and he said his mother loved the portrait. Through the years he’s painted many similar portraits at the request of friends and family members, and each time he tweaks and revises the image based on his strong feelings about how Jesus should be represented.

“I try to show him with a lot of force behind him. I can’t show him as a lily-white guy that doesn’t have any character. He’s a force,” Gordon said.

“He had to be a tough guy. He lived out in the desert. He had no house. He had to face all those people and be crucified, and it takes a tough man to do that,” he added.

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