Christian Demaria’s portraits are arresting. All of his lovingly rendered scenes of small town Appalachia are excellent, but it was the portraits above all that mesmerized me. Scrolling through his Facebook page for the first time, I found myself again and again compelled to click, to take a closer look at each of the faces. I was in a strange fog, and I realized from in the thick of it that the hazy feeling these portraits brought on was a subconscious searching; I’d been racking my brain trying to place the faces.
Don’t I know that guy from somewhere? Isn’t that the lady who…?
The subjects of Chris’s portraits are so familiar. They are the kind of regular people who might find themselves labeled “white trash” (or might even get the epithet tattooed across their belligerently protruding bellies), the kind of folks who aren’t generally portrayed in art. Yet there they are, beautiful. Face after face, they are beautiful.
It squeezed my heart to think that at least a few of his subjects might have looked at his depictions of themselves and realized their own beauty for the first time.
I asked Chris to tell us a little bit about himself and his work, and he had this to say:
“I was born in Miami, Florida and lived there until I graduated high school. After high school, I attended the Maryland Institute of Art for a short time. I wasn’t able to paint as much as I wanted, so I dropped out and continued to paint while working. I moved around a lot in my late teens to mid-twenties. West Virginia is where I lived the most. I have family in Charleston and always felt the most at home there. Appalachia has greatly inspired my painting. I try to show the beauty of the reality of our region. I’m not to interested in the postcard imagery but, rather, an old trailer hanging on the side of a mountain or a street lined with old buildings slowly deteriorating. In spite of all the problems here (as with anywhere) people continue on. The good and bad aspects of life here all mixed together is what inspires me. I live in Floyd, Virginia with my wife and our six kids.”
Chris works in a lighting factory by day, and paints “whenever [he] has the time.” When asked if he considers himself a factory worker who paints or an artist who works in a factory, he replied “I’m definitely a painter who happens to work in a factory. Being able to paint full time would be great but bills have to be paid and mouths have to be fed. Working a regular job is a necessity. Even though I spend a lot of time at work, my artwork defines who I am, not my job.”
Who are the people in Chris’s paintings? And how do they get there?
“When I first began painting, I would work directly on site and paint what was in front of me. Over time, I started working from sketches. I found that my subject matter was limited and began working from photos I would take, or random photos I found interesting. My older portraits were done with the person in front of me, but for the most part they are from photos. Most of the portraits I’ve done are of family and friends but, this year, I finished a series of portraits of strangers on Facebook. I’m fascinated by the psychology of what makes people put so much of themselves out there for all to see. I have done commissions and am always open to that.”
I had to ask if anybody he had painted had ever been overwhelmed emotionally by seeing themselves in his art.
“Sometimes someone will become emotional over a portrait or another painting I’ve done. It’s always good to get some sort of response whether it’s positive or negative. The worst is no response. Indifference is worse than a negative response to me.”
On Chris’s Facebook page, you can see more of his paintings, and keep up with his latest works in progress. You can also contact him through the page with questions about sales or commissioning a piece. Or if you’re in Chris’s neck of the woods, his studio/ gallery in Floyd, Virginia is open most days by appointment.
Header Image: Blonde Woman on Bed, 2017 – Oil on canvas