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Irving-The Irving Arts Center Focus Gallery will display portraits by Amy Werntz through July 10. The gallery opened the exhibit with a May 15 reception featuring an opportunity to speak with the artist, including a discussion on how she chooses her elderly subjects.

“I want to capture pure emotion,” Werntz said. “I want to paint the emotion and passion of the person. Even when I do not know the person before I paint them, I find they are all passionate and strong people after I have completed the work. There is something that draws me to these people, and I feel like I need to paint them.”

Werntz uses a digital camera to discreetly photograph someone before painting them.

“I do not want to use anything that blinks or makes any noise,” Werntz said. “I just wear [the camera] on my shoulder and casually try to take a photograph of someone as they are thinking, especially if they are trying to remember something.

“I feel like the viewer can bring their experience into the work. One portrait is of someone who is trying to remember something, but some people see her and think she may be distressed. I want to show the personality of the person, but hopefully leave something up to the viewer to create the story.

“Often I do not know about the people I paint. For example, Marjorie lived in my father’s memory care facility. I saw her listening to music in the atrium space. I was able to look her up and learn about her. She was an entrepreneur in the 1950’s; she had an importing business on a very large scale. She must have been driven.

“They have quiet power. Part of me wants to talk to someone and learn all about them, but also I do not want to make someone feel uncomfortable and see something they do not think is beautiful. All I see is beauty, passion, and power, and I do not want the people I paint to see something different. For that reason, I do not often learn about the people I choose to paint.”

“I really feel drawn to these portraits,” visitor Lia Piassick said. “They make me reflect that we really do not have to fear getting older. In a culture that focuses on youth and beauty, these show we will still be beautiful. She really captures that.

“Amy Werntz really appreciates her subjects and is looking for different ways to celebrate them. I also love that they are real. These portraits look like photos.”

Werntz tracks how long each portrait takes to complete.

“Because of the detail of work, it can be hard on my body,” Werntz said. “I started tracking [time] because I was having fatigue in my arm and my shoulder. The one with the rocking chair took around 120 hours. But smaller ones, like ‘Marjorie,’ took about seventy hours.”

“Werntz’s technique is so exquisite,” Irving Arts Center director of exhibition and education Marcie Inman said. “These colors are so deep, even the white. This painting has so much white, and it still vibrates. These have ethereal magnetism to them, and I am so impressed. The white and the light are just stunning.”