August fifth, 2019, Pearson Worldwide airport. I used to be ready impatiently to lastly board my twice-delayed flight to New York when my cellphone started to ring. On the opposite finish was a quiet girl who spoke shortly as she fumbled her option to her supply of employment. Apparently, she was the “ambassador” for a really uncommon American grasp portrait artist. I used to be advisable by means of a sequence of mutual associates. She wished me to drop the whole lot I used to be doing and be part of her for a number of days in order that I may doc what she was calling “the expertise of a lifetime.” I used to be intrigued.
This mysterious caller—higher often known as Rebecca Ethan as I’d come to search out out—didn’t give me a lot data on the job or what I’d truly be documenting. Nor did she give me any time to react earlier than she provided me triple my common price and a contract was ready if I accepted. How may I say no? I didn’t comprehend it then, however that job would grow to be one of the vital illuminating experiences of my life. I used to be to fulfill an eccentric, gifted portrait artist who pulled again the veil on fashionable excessive society and what it meant to be actually nicely linked.
Rebecca had a contract ready for me in my electronic mail the next day, which included a non-disclosure settlement in addition to a set of directions on the way to board the non-public jet that will be ready at Buttonville Municipal Airport to fly us right down to San Antonio. I had by no means been to Texas, however when Rebecca met me she let me know we wouldn’t be in Texas for very lengthy. We had been flying down to fulfill grasp portrait artist Kevin Saunders and have his studio tools and cellular showroom loaded onto the aircraft. Then we’d be making a fast return flight to Toronto that night in order that they may arrange for one thing they had been colloquially referred to as “The Grand Ol’ Portrait Occasion.”
After I boarded the Bombardier International jet, I used the time with Rebecca to deal with asking her extra about herself and the approaching week. It turned out that Rebecca was the daughter of a rich Quebec actual property agent who was steeped in artwork historical past and gathered a bunch of rich, well-connected Torontonians collectively to e-book a portrait artist for 4 days of limitless portrait periods. Why? As a result of she had a cousin who lived in San Antonio that had been telling her about this up-and-coming artist, Kevin Saunders, who was going to take the world by storm. Kevin was, in line with her, a type of uncommon skills that solely comes round each few centuries — and he or she wasn’t incorrect. Canadians had seen Yousuf Karsh, in spite of everything, so that they knew what they noticed in Kevin.
The very definition of a contemporary Renaissance man, Kevin dropped out of highschool to drive transport vans cross nation, then studied anatomy in school—desiring to turn into a health care provider—earlier than abandoning that aim to turn into an Olympic crusing hopeful and later orchestral musician. Kevin had transitioned into portrait pictures later in life after designing and promoting an airplane elevator idea to Boeing for 1.5 million and constructing a customized luxurious bicycle model. Bored together with his enterprise pursuits, he turned his focus in the direction of his lifelong love of portrait artistry and set a aim for himself to turn into this century’s, Yousef Karsh. He spent a few years honing his craft.
Kevin shortly rose to prominence within the southern United States initially of the pandemic and produced plenty of grand-scale superb arts portraits for bigger than life American enterprise personalities like Henry Cisneros, Paula Gold-Williams, David Bohne, Gordon Hartman, Ben Peavy, and even former congressman’s Will Hurd and Charlie Gonzalez. That got here after this journey and Rebecca and her cousin knew one thing I didn’t. I wished to find why. At the very least that’s what I discovered myself questioning as Kevin boarded the aircraft.
An older, but strong-looking man of sixty-four, Kevin had the standard white hair of a person his age however the eyes of somebody a lot youthful. I’ll always remember that piercing first look he shot my method as if he already knew me. When he reached out to shake my hand I immediately knew I had met a novel individual.
Kevin wished to start our dialog by asking me about myself and my physique of labor earlier than he transitioned into his personal artistry and philosophy on how he captures a tremendous portrait. “If I’m that one that is trusted to inform your story in a portrait so it lives on for generations,” he instructed me, “ then I need to be capable of create a film with one body. My portraits are extra than simply artwork to adore one’s ancestral house. If a household is important sufficient to have a narrative to stay on in a legacy—and also you and I do know most don’t—then who goes into that story turns into a part of an intergenerational story.” That was the principle thought behind this journey, and the rationale why so many rich households and people took Rebecca at her phrase when she mentioned, “Belief me, this man goes locations”.
I noticed Kevin two days later when he confirmed me round his cellular portrait studio. Although it was simply arrange in a quiet rented area in North York, the place had a heat and quietness that was uncommon for portrait studios. It additionally had this vibrant power that made me smile. Kevin instructed me that individuals can really feel the power in a spot and he used that to his benefit, ensuring to set the tone of a session earlier than his purchasers walked by means of his door.
The tools was astonishingly skilled, past something I assumed would have been vital for a portrait shoot. There have been classic film lights like one would see from the ’40s and ‘50s in addition to an enormous “view digicam” that appeared like one thing out of Star Trek. All the things appeared difficult, however when Kevin confirmed me the way it labored, it was extremely easy. “It’s the identical in observe as the massive picket cameras 100 years in the past,” Kevin mentioned, “nevertheless it has a 150-megapixel sensor as an alternative of an 11 x 14-inch piece of movie.” I’d by no means seen something prefer it.
I’ve sat in on many “photoshoots” and what I noticed Kevin do in a portrait session was not like something I had ever seen earlier than. Kevin was wanting on the topics from numerous angles whereas the topics had been finding out the portraits they usually had been carrying on a dialog. This went on for a half-hour or 45 minutes, after which there appeared to be a “excellent time” when the topics appeared able to step in entrance of the digicam.
I believe that is what actually made him the most effective. All the strategy of capturing portraits was actually superb to look at unfold. I used to be used to seeing photographers take a whole lot of photographs in a photoshoot and whereas Kevin used a digicam, it was merely the device he used to seize the knowledge he gleaned from finding out his purchasers beforehand. He someway was composing his portraits prematurely and guiding the topics to offer him the feelings he wanted to undertaking a likeness onto a portrait print.
After I left the portrait shoot, I didn’t see Kevin once more till I used to be flying again to Texas two months later with Rebecca to select up the portraits. After I lastly received to Kevin’s studio, I had the chance to see what he did together with his off-site artistry. Whereas it took a really small period of time to create the unique images again in Toronto, Kevin spent days—and in some circumstances—weeks doing extremely detailed and exact artistry to provide a portrait that was actually beautiful.
Kevin confirmed me a number of of his commerce secrets and techniques, and I can see why he talked about his examine of anatomy. Kevin took the imperfections that purchasers wished to have mounted and carried out a type of digital alchemy that was unimaginable. I received to see the “earlier than” and “after” and after I noticed the completed product for Rebecca, my jaw dropped. Kevin mentioned, “If I had been to color you, I wouldn’t put these particulars into the portray, so if I’m portray with mild, I’ll use the identical interpretation and also you get to decide on the way in which you want to be remembered.” What struck me was the truth that the ultimate pictures didn’t look “photoshopped” however simply appeared “proper.”
Which may be his best-kept commerce secret. He makes use of his expertise and former life expertise making ready to turn into a health care provider to change his portraits in such a method that the figures portrayed come to life. This was after I realized he was reviving a human custom that has fallen away as we’ve modernized — the superb arts portrait.
Kevin’s work is seen at www.kgsstudios.com the place you possibly can view his complete portfolio.